Our scholars’ stories: Myers explores a weight loss intervention at the intersection of food insecurity and excess body weight in women

Our scholars’ stories: Myers explores a weight loss intervention at the intersection of food insecurity and excess body weight in women

Candice A. Myers, Ph.D., M.S., assistant professor of Population and Public Health Sciences at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at LSU and director of the Social Determinants and Health Disparities Laboratory, is pioneering a project aimed to help women who experience both food insecurity and excess body weight.

Her project, TARGETing Health Weight Loss in the Context of Food Insecurity Pilot and Feasibility Trial II, will test a weight loss intervention for women with excess body weight who are experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity, or the lack of sufficient food in both quality and quantity for an active and healthy life, is a pressing health issue in the United States, with over 18% of adults being food insecure.

“Food insecurity is a risk factor for multiple chronic diseases, including obesity,” says Myers.

“Importantly, both food insecurity and excess body weight are significantly linked in women. Research efforts are needed to address and mitigate this health disparity.”

Myers’ “Why”

Myers says that as a sociologist, she has actively pursued an academic health researcher career by seeking a deeper understanding of the “concomitant influence” of sociological and biological mechanisms that shape disparate health outcomes.

“A key theme that underlies my entire research career to date is an explicit focus on disparities, socioeconomic disparities during my graduate training, and health disparities during my postdoctoral training.”

For Myers, postdoctoral training provided an opportunity to research obesity, where she discovered food insecurity as a pressing health issue, particularly about obesity.

“Calling upon my graduate work in both food stamp program participation and poverty, I focus on food insecurity as a risk factor for poor health and source of health disparities.”

A better future for women experiencing food insecurity

Myers’ project will provide novel data on a weight loss intervention tailored for women who face the dual burden of food insecurity and body weight, which impacts their overall health and quality of life.

The TARGET intervention is being developed using data from a sample of key stakeholders from the local Baton Rouge community: women who experience both food insecurity and obesity. In focus groups, they will offer information on their wants and needs for weight loss.

The goal of the current pilot study is to test the TARGET intervention. This study will enroll 15 food-insecure women (ages 18-65) with obesity, where all participants receive the tailored weight loss intervention. The 12-week intervention includes weekly individual intervention sessions. The primary outcome will be a change in body weight across 12 weeks.

Participants will receive scales in-home to obtain weekly body weight in tandem with weekly intervention sessions. Secondary outcomes will be assessed using validated questionnaires.

Researchers, public health officials, and local community members will also benefit from this preliminary work by laying the groundwork for future studies.

This study has significant public health implications by addressing psychological mechanisms that can be targeted to mitigate the adverse relationship between food insecurity and obesity and reduce health disparities in vulnerable populations.

Our Scholars’ stories: Worthington revolutionizes maternal health through innovative nutrition programs

Our Scholars’ stories: Worthington revolutionizes maternal health through innovative nutrition programs

 

Camille Worthington, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), is spearheading a groundbreaking initiative to transform maternal health through innovative nutritional interventions.

Her project, “Use of Home-Delivered Meals to Manage Cardiometabolic Health during Pregnancy among Predominantly Black, Low-Income Women in Alabama,” focuses on the critical juncture of pregnancy, diet, maternal well-being, and birth outcomes among Medicaid-eligible pregnant individuals.

Worthington’s “Why”

At the heart of Worthington’s initiative lies a profound purpose—to resolve the disparities prevalent in healthy eating and appropriate pregnancy weight gain that contribute to unequal risk of poor pregnancy outcomes, such as high blood pressure, particularly among marginalized communities.

“The U.S. and Alabama have some of the highest rates of pregnancy complications, poor pregnancy outcomes, and mom and baby death related to pregnancy,” Worthington explains. “Good nutrition is an important part of a healthy pregnancy, but not everyone has the ability to afford or access a healthy diet.”

Worthington explains that neighborhoods with more Black/African American residents and more low-income households have more fast-food restaurants, less grocery stores, and fewer healthy food options. These circumstances contribute to poor outcomes during pregnancy.

A staggering 70% of pregnant women exceed recommended intakes of added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats. Additionally, more than half gain excess weight during pregnancy, risking their and their babies’ health.

Transforming outcomes through food delivery

“The purpose of my project is to see if providing pregnant moms who are Medicaid-eligible with ten free healthy meals delivered right to their homes each week during their pregnancy helps them eat healthier, gain the right amount of pregnancy weight, have less stress, and if it is a service that they like,” says Worthington.

She envisions a transformative impact on the community by providing access to healthy meals.

“Healthy meal delivery can support healthier pregnancies, which supports healthier babies, and ultimately healthier communities,” she says.

“Long-term, we hope to show that providing pregnant people with healthy meals improves pregnancy outcomes and saves insurance companies money by preventing moms and babies from having pregnancy complications and having to stay in the hospital.”

Worthington explains that pregnant individuals eligible for Medicaid are participants in the program. Health care providers, community organizations supporting expectant mothers, and insurance providers are stakeholders in broader implementation.

Moving towards change

“We want healthy meal delivery to become a covered health care service to support all moms’ ability to eat healthy and have a healthy pregnancy.”

Worthington passionately emphasizes the intrinsic link between a balanced diet, stress reduction, and improved health outcomes for both mother and baby, paving the way to address the prevailing disparities in maternal healthcare across the U.S.

“Overall, a better diet, healthier pregnancy weight gain, and lower stress can improve health outcomes for mom and baby and could help to overcome the unequal rates of pregnancy complications that we see in the U.S.,” she says.

Worthington’s visionary initiative serves as a beacon of hope, steering academia, health care providers, and policymakers toward a paradigm shift in maternal health, advocating for a future where access to nutritious meals becomes an inalienable right for every expectant mother.