American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Meena Shah

Interview with Dr. Meena Shah

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation with Experimental Biology Presenter Dr. Meena Shah

ASN's Annual 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 situations.  

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 helpful?

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 and career.

April 2013