American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Karen Chapman-Novakofski

Interview with Dr. Karen Chapman-Novakofski

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation with ASN Excellence in Nutrition Education Award Winner Dr. Karen Chapman-Novakofski

We are pleased to introduce the winner of the 2013 ASN Excellence in Nutrition Education Award, supported by Cengage Learning, Dr. Karen Chapman-Novakofski. This award, along with the many others, will be officially presented at the 2013 ASN Awards Ceremony during ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2013, April 20-24 in Boston, MA.  Registration information and a list of scheduled sessions can be found on ASN's meeting website.

Dr. Chapman-Novakofski and her fellow honorees were chosen for their significant contributions to nutrition research and practice over the past year.  A full list of the awards and past winners can be found here. Dr. Chapman-Novakofski is a professor of Nutrition and an Extension Specialist within the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois.  In the following interview, she provides insight based on her extensive experience as an expert in nutrition education theory and applied nutrition education interventions.  She also shares her current research interests, the sessions and topics she looks forward to at this year's annual meeting, and her experience as an ASN member.

Interviewer: What best practices or tips do you have for nutrition educators?

Dr. Chapman-Novakofski: It's very important that nutrition educators working with the general public use behavior theory to guide their practice, to explain what is effective, and to emphasize important areas of interest.  In specific areas, skill building examples can be very helpful to nutrition educators.  These activities empower patients to make the healthier diet and lifestyle choices they're learning about.  Goal setting is also very helpful to this end.  Nutrition educators should additionally seek to involve their target audience in the design of nutrition education programs.  Then, once the program design is in place, educators need to rigorously evaluate not only the information being conveyed, but also how it's being conveyed to determine if there are any gaps in the program.

Interviewer: What do you see as the biggest challenges for nutrition educators?

Dr. Chapman-Novakofski: Aside from affecting behavior change, the biggest challenge for nutrition educators is documenting when those interventions are effective.  The solution to this challenge goes all the way back to the scientific method and evaluating the reliability and validity of metrics being used to measure change in behaviors or attitudes.  This means that survey design methodology is very important.  We need to make sure that we are including enough people within homogenous groups to be able to see a change if there is one present.

Interviewer: How can ASN as an organization or interested ASN members help confront these challenges?

Dr. Chapman-Novakofski: I think it might be helpful for ASN to hold more workshops on nutrition education tools in addition to the sessions at Experimental Biology.  It's also important that we teach graduate students and scientists new to the field of nutrition education the techniques needed to design effective nutrition education programs and to document their effectiveness.

Interviewer: What are some of your current research interests?

Dr. Chapman-Novakofski: Obviously I'm interested in evaluating effective nutrition education practices and interventions.  Right now, my research is moving from those face-to-face nutrition education programs to more Web-based or mobile application interventions.  The funding for having a person to teach nutrition education in every classroom or even every county is not feasible at this time, so it's important that we investigate individual activities and alternative delivery methods to get around those funding shortages.  My current research is not only interested in how many people we can reach, but also how sustainable or motivating these alternative programs are; we need to know if they actually have an effect on behavior.  I've specifically been working on evaluating these types of interventions in diabetes and obesity prevention as well as bone health and osteoporosis prevention.

Interviewer: What sessions, topics, or events are you looking forward to at this year's Experimental Biology Meeting?

Dr. Chapman-Novakofski: There are, as always, many great sessions planned for this year's meeting.  The first session I'm really interested in is “Nutritional Surveys and Epidemiological Studies: Exploring and Enhancing Methods, Interpretation, and Communication,” which is chaired by Dr. John Milner and Dr. Marge Leahy.  I see this session as a cornerstone of nutrition education because we need to improve our methodology in the surveys we use and learn how to better communicate that information.  I'm also interested in the session chaired by Sabrina Sales Martinez, “Social Media and Mobile Technology for Nutrition Education and Research,” and “The Promises and Pitfalls of Research Using Dietary Patterns,” chaired by Dr. Katarzyna Kordas and Dr. Lisa Troy.

Interviewer: How did you first get interested in nutrition and nutrition education?

Dr. Chapman-Novakofski: I have my Bachelor's degree in Dietetics.  Following my internship, I became a clinical dietitian for some time, but I found myself increasingly frustrated trying to counsel patients on nutrition interventions.  I subsequently decided to explore those issues in my Master's and Doctoral work.  After I earned my Doctorate, I was very interested in outreach programs, having spent 11 years in a medical center.  I decided I wanted to concentrate on preventative public health, researching new techniques and novel ways to convey nutrition information and change patient behaviors.

Interviewer: Where during that journey did you come across ASN and what aspects of membership have been most helpful to your career?

Dr. Chapman-Novakofski: I earned my Doctorate at the University of Illinois under Dr. John Erdman.  He motivated me and all of the doctoral candidates to attend Experimental Biology and learn the professional way to discuss your research.  I decided to be a part of ASN because of the breadth and depth of knowledge I saw presented.  Over the years, the meetings have been extremely helpful in keeping me up-to-date on the most recent research.  But just as valuable are the vast networking opportunities offered at the annual conference and other meetings: you get to see your cohorts, meet their students, interview potential postdocs, form collaborations, and hold informal meetings with research groups. The networking possibilities really are endless.

February 2013