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Arnold School of Public Health

Danielle Brown (Ph.D. in Epidemiology) awarded NIH Diversity Supplement to examine how food insecurity affects diabetes among youth

November 4, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Growing up in Beaufort, South Carolina, Danielle Brown had an aptitude for mathematics and problem solving from a young age. Her interest in analytics led her to study mathematics as an undergraduate at Spelman College. During her bachelor’s program, Brown became intrigued by statistical methods and their applications to health promotion and prevention and decided to stay in Atlanta to pursue a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from Emory University.

“The continued need for research on health disparities and for more public health leaders from diverse backgrounds motivated my desire to have a deeper understanding of social and behavioral factors that contribute to health and well-being,” Brown says of her decision to continue her studies with a doctoral degree.

The Arnold School faculty members’ diverse research areas and the warm, friendly environment created by students and professors led her to choose UofSC for her Ph.D. in Epidemiology. Brown was also selected to join UofSC’s Behavioral Biomedical  Interface Program – a National Institutes of Health-funded predoctoral fellowship that offers interdisciplinary training in epidemiology, exercise science and psychology to better prepare the next generation of behavioral scientists. 

Before attending UofSC, Brown gained experience in HIV/AIDS epidemiology at both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Public Health. Since starting her program, she found mentors in epidemiology professor Angela Liese and psychology professor Kate Flory, assisting Liese with her National Institutes of Health SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Food Security study (recently extended with another CDC grant to create the DiCAYA project).

“Drs. Liese and Flory have helped me with finding opportunities to learn more about my research interests, to work with multi-disciplinary research teams, and are always there to give me great feedback and suggestions,” she says. “It’s important to find mentors in your field of interest, ones with whom you can brainstorm and discuss research ideas.”

Brown will use data from the SEARCH Food Security study to conduct her dissertation research, which is supported by a Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research from the National Institutes of Health. Her project will examine the experiences of food insecure youth and young adults with diabetes who have mental health problems (i.e., depression and anxiety).

“Household food insecurity disproportionally affects people with diabetes living in the United States, particularly in households with children who are minorities, who live in single-parent homes, and those with household income below 185 percent of the federal poverty line,” Brown says. “Food security challenges may be magnified for people who have mental health problems, yet few studies have examined this association among youth and young adults with diabetes.”

Her research will also investigate how household food insecurity and other intersecting social determinants of health (e.g., housing status, transportation needs) are associated with depression and anxiety symptoms and health-related quality of life. Brown's goal is to use the findings from her research to help inform the planning and implementation of prevention and care interventions for youth and young adults with diabetes.

After completing her degree, Brown plans to continue researching the negative effects of household food insecurity and other social determinants of health on the mental health of underserved communities. She is interested in leading studies on social and behavioral health within an academic or government setting.

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