ASN is dedicated to advancing the interests of minorities who are often underrepresented in nutrition and life sciences. ASN's Minority Affairs Committee (MAC) leads these efforts, providing advancement opportunities as well as educational resources to support investigators and clinicians working to end nutrition disparities in minority communities. Dr. Charlotte Pratt serves as the MAC's current chair. She is a Program Director at the Prevention and Population Sciences Program of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), NIH. In this interview, she provides more information on the MAC's mission and upcoming events, including those scheduled for ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting, which will be held April 26-30, 2014 in San Diego. She also discusses her experiences with ASN and her goals for the future of the MAC.
Interviewer: Could you begin by telling us a bit more about the MAC and its role within ASN?
Dr. Pratt: The MAC's main function is to encourage minority members to participate in ASN activities, and by doing so, we hope to increase ASN's focus on health disparities within minority communities. We primarily achieve this goal through MAC activities.
Interviewer: What are some of the MAC's upcoming activities that you would like members or potential members to be aware of?
Dr. Pratt: We have several events planned in 2014. ASN offers the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Travel Awards to help minority students attend EB 2014. Interested applicants can find more details about the MARC awards on ASN's student awards page. All ASN MARC awardees are eligible to compete in the ASN Young Minority Investigator Oral Competition, supported by DSM Nutritional Products. This year's competition will be held on Saturday, April 26 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. during ASN's Scientific Sessions at Experimental Biology (EB) in San Diego, CA. ASN MARC awardees also display their posters at the ASN MAC Travel Awardees Poster Session and Networking Breakfast, which will be held on Tuesday, April 29 from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
In addition to these activities, which have become increasingly popular at EB, we are planning for the first time a MAC Forum to be held after the MAC committee meeting. The Forum will allow young and early-stage minority investigators and other members to ask experienced nutrition faculty questions about tenure and promotion, and mentoring. Also new this year is a mini-symposium co-chaired by the MAC and the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Interest Section (RIS), which is headed by Dr. Lisa Troy of Tufts University. This mini-symposium will examine epidemiologic methods for investigation and outcomes in diverse populations.
Interviewer: What does your role as MAC chair entail? What are your major goals for the committee?
Dr. Pratt: One of my main goals for the MAC is, of course, to encourage participation in ASN by our minority members. However, my other major goal is to urge all ASN members to focus on minority health issues and health disparities in minority communities to help investigators conduct better research in diverse populations. With these goals in mind, I hope that all ASN members, not just minority members, will attend MAC-sponsored activities. I especially want to encourage young scientists to focus on how the three major nutrition-related health issues in America- cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke-affect minority communities. While these health issues have been found to disproportionately affect minority populations, there has not been sufficient implementation research and interventions in those populations.
Interviewer: Could you tell us a bit about your current research interests?
Dr. Pratt: Regarding my own research, my focus is on nutrition, physical activity, and obesity. In my role as program director at the NHLBI Prevention and Population Sciences Program, I oversee a multisite study on the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity. The ultimate goal of this investigation is to improve outcomes in childhood obesity interventions because the results of many existing interventions for childhood obesity have been largely disappointing. We are trying to change that by involving all aspects of where children live, learn, and play in our studies. To do so, we are following different interventions at the school level, at the primary care level, at the home level, and at the community level over the course of three years. In this role, I also interact with a number of extramural scientists involved in cardiovascular risk reduction in both adults and children.
Interviewer: How did you first get interested in nutrition, and what made you decide to pursue a career in the field?
Dr. Pratt: I received my undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Ghana. This interest stemmed from my work with a faculty member there who had received a World Health Organization (WHO) grant to conduct epidemiologic research in villages across West Africa. I then did my graduate work and received my PhD in Nutrition Science from the University of Minnesota.
Interviewer: How did you first get involved in ASN and what have you found most helpful about ASN?
Dr. Pratt: I joined ASN after I received my doctoral degree, but even before that my advisor, Dr. Patricia Swan, encouraged me to participate in ASN activities. My first experience with ASN was as a presenter in a poster session at Experimental Biology during my doctoral studies. Over the years, what I have come to appreciate most about ASN is the quality of the research presented at the meetings and in the journals. ASN provides the opportunity to network with like-minded people in the field. I've found that the Research Interest Sections (RIS) help with those networking goals. I'm also a member of the Medical Nutrition Council, which leads ASN efforts to translate cutting-edge research advances into practical clinical, educational, and community interventions.