A Conversation with Experimental Biology Presenter Dr. Meena Shah
Scientific Sessions at Experimental Biology 2013 were a stellar
success, offering innovative symposia and poster sessions from the
world's most respected nutrition experts. One of those
presenters was Dr. Meena Shah of Texas Christian University's
Department of Kinesiology. In this interview, Dr. Shah
describes her recent EB poster session on menu labeling and its
potential to effectively influence healthy eating choices.
She also discusses her upcoming research on dietary interventions
to enhance production of GLP-1 in patients with type 2 diabetes;
her hopes for next year's EB meeting; and, finally, insights from
her time as an ASN member.
Interviewer: Can you tell us a bit about your EB poster
session on menu labeling?
Dr. Shah: The study was conducted and presented by Ashlei
James, a graduate student from my lab.
Eating out in restaurants is associated with increased energy
intake, possible because we tend to eat larger portions of more
energy dense foods when we eat out. A number of studies have
examined the effect of calorie labels on menus on calories ordered
and many have found that it does not have an impact on the number
of calories ordered.
Our goal was to come up with a more effective strategy to order and
consume fewer calories. So we examined the effect of
providing exercise recommendations on menus, such as the number of
minutes of brisk walking needed to burn the calories in specific
food items. We recruited 300 young adults and randomly
assigned them to a menu without calories labels, one with calorie
labels, or one with minutes of brisk walking needed to burn the
food calories. We found that the menu with exercise labels
led to significantly fewer calories ordered and consumed than the
menu without calorie labels. No differences were seen between the
menu with calorie labels and the menu without calorie labels or the
menu with exercise labels.
Read the media alert.
Interviewer: What other sessions from this year's meeting do
you find most interesting? What topics do you look forward to
seeing discussed at future meetings?
Dr. Shah: There are a few topics at this year's meeting that
I think are very interesting. The first one is “Obesity,
Metabolic Complications and Type 2 Diabetes: Beyond Body Fat,”
chaired by Dr. Andrew Greenberg and Dr. Edward Saltzman. The
other is “The Role of Gut Nutrient Sensing in Metabolic Diseases,”
chaired by Dr. Doug Burrin. Both of these sessions are
related to my upcoming research.
In the future, I would like to see a symposium on menu labeling and
calorie consumption in restaurant meals. Dining out has such
a significant impact on the number of calories we consume, that it
is essential we focus on the types of interventions that can
potentially help us make healthier eating choices in these
Interviewer: Would you describe your current research
interests and upcoming projects?
Dr. Shah: We will be conducting more studies in the area of
menu labeling. I will also be conducting a study on the impact of
different meal compositions on glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1)
secretion. Some patients with type 2 diabetes begin to make
less GLP-1 over time, which affects insulin secretion. Our
investigation hopes to determine strategies to enhance GLP-1
secretion in patients with diabetes.
Interviewer: What would you say is the biggest challenge
currently facing nutrition researchers, and how can ASN and its
members help face this challenge going forward?
Dr. Shah: It is definitely funding. It is becoming
increasingly more difficult to get anything funded. ASN already
does an excellent job liaising with legislators and public
officials to educate them about the importance of continued support
for nutrition research. However, I think it's important that
all members take the opportunity to get involved in ASN's advocacy
efforts in order to help get our voices heard. I also think
that it's crucial for us to highlight current advances in nutrition
so both legislators and the public can see the results of the
research they're supporting. The next step would then be to
identify specific areas for further research to improve the health
of the nation.
Interviewer: When did you first become interested in
nutrition? Where in your journey did you come across ASN and what
about your involvement in the organization do you find most
Dr. Shah: My interest in nutrition began when I was very
young. I was raised vegetarian and my parents were very
focused on healthy eating choices, even though they were not
nutrition professionals. Both my first degree and my terminal
degree have been in nutrition, and it was during my Bachelor's that
I got interested in research. I was lucky to have professors
that were so enthusiastic about their field that it really fostered
my interest in nutrition research.
I have been involved with ASN for quite some time. I continue
to keep up with the organization because it covers so many areas of
nutrition. It allows me to keep up with my own interests as
well as a wide variety of other advances in the field. I've also
found it easy and beneficial to volunteer with ASN. The society
really encourages member involvement. Being involved in the society
allows for more networking opportunities to advance your research