Erin Hager, PhD
I was born and raised in Baltimore. After graduating from Loyola College in MD with a B.S. in biology and working for several years in a breast cancer laboratory, I enrolled in the doctoral program in Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Under the guidance of my graduate school advisor, Margarita Treuth, PhD, an exercise physiologist, and my current mentor, Maureen Black, PhD, a pediatric psychologist, I became the data collection coordinator for Challenge!, a home- and community-based health-promotion/ obesity prevention randomized controlled trial (RCT) targeting low-income urban African American adolescents. I used these data for my dissertation, "Familial Determinants of Overweight and Physical Activity Behavior Change Among Urban African American Adolescents". In 2006 I became the Research Coordinator within the Growth and Nutrition Division of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of MD School of Medicine (UMSOM). I oversaw 7 research projects over 3 years. In April 2009, I became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UMSOM. My research time is divided among several projects. The majority is spent on an extension of the original Challenge! program called on "Challenge! in Schools: Adolescent Overweight Prevention", a RCT of a multi-level health-promotion/ obesity prevention intervention targeting low-income urban African American middle school girls, for which I am a co-investigator. I received my own funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through an Active Living Research/ New Connections grant to focus specifically on the environmental component of "Challenge! in Schools". Additionally, I am a co-investigator for TOPS (Toddler Overweight Prevention Study), a RCT testing 2 interventions to prevent rapid weight gain among low-income toddlers (age 12-30 months), including a maternal nutrition education and physical activity intervention, and a parenting intervention focused on limit setting, dietary behavior and rewarding without food compared to a placebo intervention focusing on child safety.
For low-income urban African American adolescent girls, environmental factors may be related to physical inactivity and obesity, in particular, factors relating to the environments within and surrounding their school. Using Bronfenbrenner's Social Ecological Model as a framework for this study, the purpose is to evaluate both the perceived and objectively measured physical activity environment inside of urban middle schools serving predominantly low-income African American students and in the neighborhoods surrounding these schools using existing and newly developed surveys, and to examine the relationship between the environment and the body composition and physical activity of low-income, African American adolescent girls in urban public middle schools. In part 1 (completed), I developed a questionnaire to assess adolescents' perceptions of their school environment based on focus group data and existing questionnaires. The validity and reliability of this newly developed questionnaire is currently being evaluated. In part 2 (ongoing), I will use this tool and others to evaluate the relationship between the built/ perceived neighborhood/ school environments and the physical activity and body composition of low-income, urban, adolescent girls.
Why I Applied to New Connections
My award is an Active Living Research/ New Connections award. My research interests are very much in line with ALR and my background made me eligible for New Connections. Once I learned more about the opportunities that New Connections offers to young investigators who come from disadvantaged backgrounds (I grew up in a low-income family and I am a first generation college graduate), I knew that I wanted to be a part of this organization. They offer mentorship, workshops (including writing, theory, statistics, etc), and the opportunity to network with investigators from very different disciplines from all over the country who are all interested in working with under-privileged populations and eliminating health disparities.
What New Connections Means for my Career
I have established professional connections and friendships through my involvement with New Connections. Additionally, since attending the symposium and the research and coaching clinic I have become a more productive writer and my research objectives are becoming more focused. I sincerely appreciate all that New Connections has done for me and I strongly encourage others who are eligible to get involved in this organization.
I am particularly interested in the development of valid assessment techniques relating to obesity prevention (including body composition and physical activity) and the implementation of pediatric obesity-prevention programs with a strong familial component. I work primarily with underprivileged populations, particularly low-income, urban families. I am committed to using my training in health promotion and obesity prevention to ensure that children growing up in low-income urban communities have opportunities for physical activity and to avoid obesity.
My New Connections project is focusing on low-income, urban, African American adolescent girls.