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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Margaret Peck

March 1, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, 

Though she spent the first few decades of her life in the Midwest, Margaret Peck has called Wadmalaw—a rural island near Charleston, S.C.—home for the past 20 years. In addition to being the place where she gardens, cooks, studies, runs, swims and plays with her husband and their two grown daughters, the Charleston community is also the backdrop of Peck’s professional career.

Over the years, the University of New Mexico graduate (psychology) has focused on behavior modification in the health/fitness and non-profit sectors. For many years, she served as a fitness nutrition coach, helping athletes, families, and others reach their health and fitness goals. She also founded and taught an evidence-based program, Healthy Plate Cooking, to provide basic nutrition education through home cooking skills. 

I wanted to enlarge my knowledge on how best to collaborate to create environments that support good health for everyone.

-Margaret Peck, HPEB MPH professional online program graduate

“Working in non-profit, I was frustrated to see the health inequity, which consistently exists in my community, often due to unequal access to healthy foods and opportunities for safe physical activity,” says Peck of her decision to return to school to pursue a master’s degree. “I wanted to enlarge my knowledge on how best to collaborate to create environments that support good health for everyone.”

After a year of researching potential programs, Peck was excited to narrow down her preferred choice to the health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB) master of public health (MPH) professional online program. The distance education program allowed Peck to study while continuing to work in her community and was perfectly aligned with her interests, experience and goals. It didn’t hurt that many of her Charleston area neighbors and friends are USC alumni and Gamecock fans.   

During her program, Peck focused her research interests on obesity, specifically the influence of the microbiome on body mass index as well as environmental triggers, such as hormone-disrupting chemicals. She also met influential mentors, such as HPEB professor and SmartState Endowed Chair of Clinical Translational Research Xiaoming Li, who supported Peck’s research endeavors, environmental health sciences clinical professor and chair Geoff Scott, who helped her understand the relationship between public health and environmental stressors and the built environment, and HPEB associate professor and professional online program director Lucy Ingram, who inspired Peck to think about health equity and social determinants of health within every public health conversation and situation.

“I highly recommend that prospective students do preemptive research on the specific health needs in their community,” says Peck to those interested in the program. “Many students in my cohort were already working in a health field and have familiarity, but a recent community health needs assessment would give direction to student research papers, assignments and practicum experience.” 

As long as I can be of service to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequities in our community, I will continue to do so.

-Margaret Peck, HPEB MPH professional online program graduate

While pursuing her degree, Peck continued her professional work, including the Healthy Plate Cooking nutrition series. She also coaches the National Diabetes Prevention Program, which has proven to be effective in reducing the incidence of Type 2 diabetes among high risk individuals. Working to expand local interest in this program, Peck recruited assistance from another HPEB MPH practicum student. 

Peck hasn’t paused for a moment since her December graduation. In fact, it’s full steam ahead. She’s currently working on two projects to combat surging rates of Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes in her community. The first is a collaboration with her local diabetes coalition to expand the National Diabetes Prevention Program by launching a new series at the Medical University of South Carolina. The second project, driven by the Healthy Tri-County Initiative, involves developing a five-year community health improvement plan with Peck as co-chair of the committee on Obesity, Nutrition, and Physical Activity.

“I have failed retirement multiple times,” says Peck. “As long as I can be of service to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequities in our community, I will continue to do so.”  

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.