Student & ECR Spotlight – Divya Patel is working on behavioral parental and childcare provider factors that affect young children’s diet and weight outcomes

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

I was always curious to learn about the relationship between food and the human body and how it affects our behavior. So, after completing my undergraduate degree and foods and nutrition from India in 2018, I came to the United States for pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition and dietetics. During my MS program at Kent State University, Ohio, I discovered my interest in researching about childhood obesity and its predictors. To explore this interest further, I started my Ph.D. program in 2020, and currently, I am a 3rd-year Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

What is your main research interest?

A lot of my work so far is related to examining meal and menu quality in childcare. Currently, I am examining how home and childcare environments influence children’s health behaviors, with a particular interest in mealtime practices. Overall, I am interested in how these factors play a role in children from different age groups as well as in developing personalized trainings for caregivers using appropriate theoretical frameworks.

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

Well, it depends on who is asking. But, for most friends and family, I simply say that I work towards improving the dietary habits of young children and increasing their intake of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. This is the most simplified version of what I actually do; it helps them understand, so I try to not use very complex or scientific language.

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

One of the many important developments in nutrition and health-related research would be bridging the gap between research/academia and community. There are years of research available and yet not enough work has been done to translate these findings into something practical that the community understands and finds useful to improve their health and well-being. This is especially important for researchers in public health and behavioral fields because our research is driven by what problem our target population is facing to then try and improve the same. If there is not enough translation or implementation into policies, programs, tools, and resources that people can benefit from, the ultimate goal of our research will remain incomplete.

What’s something you have learned about your research or yourself that was unexpected?

I have had hands-on experience coding more than 100 mealtime videos, so I feel like I have already learned so much about feeding young children and the do’s and don’ts. But, on a personal level, being a Ph.D. student has transformed how I see myself and the world around me. I’ve not only learned to recognize my own strengths and weaknesses but also learned that taking a leap of faith in something that I am passionate about is always worth it, no matter how hard it may seem. I cannot point my finger at a specific thing I found that was unexpected, but my Ph.D. journey as a whole so far has been unexpected, but in the most positive way possible.


If you would like to get in touch with Divya, you can do so via e-mail at [email protected], LinkedIn at, Instagram at pateldivya1912.