Tell us about your research around kids’ health and nutrition and what drives you.

I have traveled across the country, not only gathering data for research, but also listening to families talk about their challenges, hopes, and dreams for their kids. My career has been spent developing and applying evidence-based nutrition and physical activity strategies to promote child health and prevent the development of obesity and risk factors for chronic disease. I focus my research on communities with historical and structural disadvantages and apply a systems approach that brings key sectors together—educational, food, political, and health care—to coordinate, synergize, and build ambitious approaches for improvement, using the latest evidence. Our research has shown that these community strategies have a significantly positive impact on childhood health. Providing access to healthy and affordable food, quality health care, nutritious school meals, and community leadership that prioritizes children’s health equity are essential factors in raising a healthier generation. I am motivated by the fact that we have strong evidence when it comes to raising healthy kids and driven to implement and scale what works while continuously iterating and learning more as the world rapidly changes around us.

What are some of the key opportunities and challenges that you’ve found through your work that impact families’ abilities to raise healthy kids?

All kids deserve to live a healthy life, yet longstanding and entrenched societal problems like poverty and racism have caused structural inequities that hinder access to nutritious food and safe places for physical activity and play. But there are things we can do to change these structures for the better. Engaging with local communities through activism, advocacy, voting, and joining forces with groups that fight for equity can help us make a significant impact on policy, systems, and environmental change throughout the country. These combined efforts can lead to expansion of nutrition security programs, economic development in under-resourced communities, and more grocery stores, farmers markets, community gardens, walking/biking paths, sidewalks, and safe, accessible outdoor spaces which make it easier for all families to practice healthy habits.

How did you approach health and wellness as you were raising your own kids?

I always tried to model a healthy lifestyle for my kids through my own choices and behaviors – eating healthy, practicing yoga and meditation, taking long walks with friends, and hiking and biking. It wasn’t always easy, and as a working mom I had stretches of time that took me away from tending to my own health. Like most parents, I was hard on myself when I got off-track, but with help from support systems, I was able to continue moving forward. Through it all I was committed to teaching my kids the skills they would need to practice a healthy lifestyle like shopping and cooking together using lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and proteins. We visited local farms that introduced us to a wide variety of produce and prioritized physical activity as a family through hiking and other outdoor activities. When my kids were younger and involved in organized sports, I supported them through coaching, practicing with them, and supporting their successes and failures.

Thank you so much to Chris for sharing her insights with us. We’re excited to keep collaborating with her as a member of our Kitchen Cabinet. For more on Chris, read about her work and research through Tufts University, and stay tuned for more right here on Nothing to Sugarcoat.