MPH student explores innovative approaches to childhood nutrition

Anyone who has children or interacts with children knows that getting kids to eat a healthy and balanced diet is a huge feat.

The fear of trying new things is just one of the barriers to childhood nutrition that Faire Holliday is studying as a graduate research assistant for Laura Bellows in the Health Behaviors Lab in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

Holliday is a second-year MPH student in the Global Health & Health Disparities concentration at the Colorado School of Public Health at CSU. She is especially interested in Bellows’ research because it involves working with children and low-income populations.

Faire Holliday in Switzerland where she is completing her summer practicum at the World Health Organization.

Layers of influence

“Kids, in particular, are at the mercy of so many layers of influence, because they usually don’t have the funds or ability to purchase their own food,” Holliday explained. “Therefore, it’s critical that interventions attempt to target lots of different things: the school food environment, the home food environment, neophobia, food accessibility, advertising. Obviously, no one intervention can tackle all these things, but that’s one of the beautiful things about public health: It’s a lot of little fights that lead up to a big victory.”

So far in her work as a GRA, Holliday has researched educational children’s books regarding healthy eating, as well as helped with transcribing and coding interviews with parents regarding their children’s use of technology. She also assisted with a systematic review of family meals, which included analyzing photos of the dinners that parents and children participating in the study ate.

The dinner snapshot research has been interesting, she said, because “I feel like the ones we got back really captured how many different things constitute ‘dinnertime’ in our country. Some people eat home-cooked meals at 8:30 p.m. as a family. Some people eat fast food driving their kids home from school at 4 p.m. Some people feed their kids and then eat their own dinner later, or don’t actually sit down and eat one large meal at all.”

Pizza vs. ‘moonsquirters’

Additionally, her research into children’s literature brought to light an emerging niche for messaging about healthy eating, which can replace content promoting pizza and ice cream and cookies. For example, the picky little sister in Lauren Childs’ “I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato,” (which Holliday found to be delightful), is cajoled into eating a tomato by her older brother, who calls them “moonsquirters.”

These experiences have been a highlight of the MPH program for Faire.

“I think it’s so important to connect what you’re learning in class to real-world experiences,” she said. “It makes knowledge more than just theoretical, which I think is particularly important at the beginning of a new field of study. I think working in the lab has given me an appreciation for the patience of public health, because all of the changes we’re working to achieve won’t be seen for years. It’s so important that there’s a field that’s looking to the future, though, since so many others are dealing with only the present.”

This summer, Holliday is completing her practicum working on nutrition topics with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Post-graduation, she said she hopes to work with a national or international agency focusing on nutrition, food security and food systems.

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.