Student & ECR Spotlight – Ana Mitchell – Implementation Science in Public Health Nutrition Programs

Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).

After receiving my bachelor’s degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado Boulder, I joined Teach for America in Denver and taught high school science for two years at a low-income urban high school. My time in the classroom inspired me to pursue a degree in nutrition so I could learn evidenced-based practices to better serve communities on a larger scale to ultimately promote well-being and prevent disease. Before joining a graduate program, I lived in Central America for six months where I learned Spanish, taught health education, and volunteered at a clinic to work alongside a registered dietician. I am now a 4th year PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, advised by Dr. Melissa Pflugh Prescott.

What is your main research interest?

My research interest includes the evaluation and implementation of public health nutrition programs particularly those in school and university settings. I am interested in learning more about the implementation of evidenced-based programs in real world settings with the hopes of scaling-up and disseminating programs to have a population-wide impact. Schools provide an ideal setting for programs to reach all students regardless of background if equity within implementation can be achieved. Other research interests include nutrition security, sustainable food systems, policy, chronic disease prevention, nutrition education, and the application of policy, systems, and environmental change initiatives. 

How do you explain your current research/job to friends and family?

I generally explain that researchers develop programs that help prevent childhood obesity, for example, and that these programs produce good results when the research team runs the program. However, when the same program is given to a school to implement, it may not work as well. This does not mean the program is bad nor that it is the school’s fault that the program did not work. Instead, it means that there are likely problems with how the program is being implemented or maybe it is not possible to implement the program as intended due the school’s competing priorities or time/resource constraints. Therefore, my research is interested in learning more about how to implement programs in real world settings like schools so that programs can produce their intended outcomes like reducing childhood obesity or getting kids to eat their fruits and vegetables, etc.

What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition and/or physical activity field? 

Efforts to alleviate food security have traditionally focused on increasing access to quantity rather than quality of food. Food insecure individuals, however, tend to have lower diet quality and are at greater risk for developing diet-related diseases. Therefore, there has been a shift to focus on nutrition security which aims to provide consistent access to foods and beverages that promote well-being and prevent disease. I think ensuring nutrition security rather than just food security will become one of the next most important developments in the field of nutrition. I also wanted to point out that I learned about this topic through a presentation by Dr. Sheila Fleischhacker and recently read the following publication, “Prioritizing Nutrition Security in the US” (DOI: 10.1001/jama.2021.1915), which is where the information in this response came from. 


If you would like to get in touch with Ana, you can do so via e-mail [email protected], Twitter @anamitche111, or LinkedIn