News & Events

The Time Is Now: Opportunities to Boost Food & Nutrition Sec


Every five years, the country takes a close look at national food and nutrition programs. Though called the farm bill, its biggest provision is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), one of the country’s largest anti-poverty and food security programs. Panelists will discuss opportunities to alleviate hunger, reduce unhealthy food marketing, increase equitable access to healthy food, and provide incentives for healthy eating through program modernization, stronger nutrition education, and research.


  • Ty Jones Cox, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Karen Ehrens, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Sara John, Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • Jacqlyn Schneider, FGS Global
  • Margo G. Wootan, President, MXG Strategies; Adjunct Faculty, American University

Elizabeth Cotter received a $142,743 grant from the NIH for “Reducing Maternal Stress to Improve Obesity-related Parenting Practices.”

Public health alumna Maeve Alterio is first author on A Geospatial Analysis of Abortion Access in the US after the Reversal of Roe v. Wade. Maeve is a medical student at Washington State University.

AU students win award at NASEM 2022 Public Health Case Challenge.At the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine 2022 Public Health Case Challenge, students Adira Brenner, Margaret Curley, Caroline Kerkorian, Rotem Miloh, Rebeka Rafi, and Anjali Singh were awarded the Interprofessional Prize for their innovative solution involving multiple DC community partners and stakeholders in a peer-mentorship program. AU public health alums Mary Katherine Fogarty and Yongyi Lu were the case writers for the competition: see video Highlights Reel (with AU at 0:30, 2:19, 2:49).

AU prof Karch with students Amenti Bekere (2nd from left), Rotem Miloh (4th from left), and Adira Brenner (6th from left) at Hero22.

Health promotion management students Adira Brenner, Rotem Miloh, Amenti Bekere, Alec Harris, Kai Jones, and Jamie Cohen, accompanied by prof Robert Karch, interned at HERO22, working with experts in lifestyle medicine, worksite wellness, and health promotion to share recent research and innovations.

AU alumna Annika Bergstrom receiving the 2022 Excellence in Public Health Award.Alumna Annika Bergstrom (CAS/BS ’15) won the United States Public Health Service 2022 Excellence in Public Health Award.

Jolynn Gardner was interviewed for "20 Grief Journal Prompts & Tips For Getting Started" in Choosing Therapy.

Congratulations to AU Health Studies Students Olivia Gonyea, Yongyi Lu, Anita Novillo, Jessie Sadel, Kai Wasson, and Aria Wanek who not only won the Harrison C. Spencer Memorial Interprofessional Prize at the 2022 National Academies of Medicine Eighth Annual DC Public Health Case Challenge, but who now also have contributed to the NAM's publication about the event! Wonderful accomplishments!

2022 Student Awards

The Department of Health Studies is excited to congratulate this year’s student award recipients!

Undergraduate Student Awards

  • Josephine G. Gimble Scholarship
    Maulie (Sarah) Clermont
  • Charles M. and Lucy W. Johnson Textbook Assistance Award
    Malazia Cepero
  • Charles M. and Lucy W. Johnson Senior Research Prize
    Anthony Orsino
  • Health Impact at AU Award (group award)
    Caroline Arnette
    Annabella Bozo-Cabrera
    Shelda Francois
    Nia Sosa
  • Health Impact in DC Award
    Nisaa Chaudhry
  • Health Impact Beyond DC Award
    Lily Duboff

Graduate Student Awards

  • Outstanding Student Achievement-Health Promotion Management
    Kamalia Blunt
    Javier Rivera
  • Outstanding Student Achievement-Nutrition Education
    Meredith Hishmeh
    Flannery Sullivan
    Maria Valeria Torres

In the Field

  • Public Health alumna Annika Bergstrom (CAS/BS ’15) won the United States Public Health Service 2022 Excellence in Public Health Award.

  • Katie Holton received $6,370,662 from the Department of Defense for “Confirmation of the Low Glutamate Diet as a Treatment for Gulf War Illness.”

  • Ethan Mereish received $681,498 in the first year of a five-year project totalling $3,141,383 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) - NIAAA for the project “Confirmation of the Low Glutamate Diet as a Treatment for Gulf War Illness.”

  • Stacey Snelling is part of the team of researchers recently awarded a five-year, $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation to address food insecurity.

  • On April 22, Secretary Tom Vilsack and Dr. Margo Wootan joined the department for a conversation about USDA nutrition programs evolving to meet challenges families face in accessing affordable healthy food. Watch the discussion with Secretary Vilsack.

    Sophie C. Hathaway won the award for Undergraduate Social Sciences Final Work at the Mathias Student Research Conference.

  • The AU Team was awarded the Interprofessional Prize at the DC Annual Case Challenge National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).

  • The 2022 AU Global Health Case Competition focused on "Healthcare Burnout in America," where the winning team developed solutions to healthcare worker crisis.
  • Jessica Young discussed "Health Inequities and Unjust Health Outcomes" of the COVD-19 pandemic with American University.
  • The AU Team was  awarded the Interprofessional Prize at the DC Annual Case Challenge National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine  (NASEM).
  • Jessica Yamamoto, Elizabeth Brandley, and Trina Ulrich published Flight attendant occupational nutrition and lifestyle factors associated with COVID-19 incidence
  • Sam Hanna published “Blockchain Integration With Digital Technology and the Future of Health Care Ecosystems: Systematic Review” in the Journal for Medical Internet Research.
  • Melissa Hawkins spoke to The Conversation about How Effective Are Vaccines against Omicron?
  • Anthony Panzera received a $95,739 grant from the District of Columbia Department of Health, sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture – WIC Telehealth Evaluation Collaborative, for the “THIS-WIC Telehealth Project.”
  • Melissa Hawkins wrote an article for The Conversation titled "Yes, we should be keeping the healthier hand-washing habits we developed at the start of the pandemic." (October)

  • The AU team was awarded the Interprofessional Prize at the DC Annual Case Challenge National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) (October)

  • Stacey Snelling is part of the team of researchers recently awarded a five-year, $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) titled "Multiscale Resilient, Equitable, and Circular Innovations with Partnership and Education Synergies (RECIPES) for Sustainable Food Systems.” (September)

  • Jolynn Gardner and Trina Ulrich presented Syllabus Reconstruction: Reflections on Applying a Social Justice Framework to Syllabus Review at the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Undergraduate Conference. (September)

  • Melissa Hawkins contributed expertise to a Washington Post article on concert-going in 2021. (September)

    Melissa Hawkins was consulted in an NBC4 Washington article titled “COVID-19 Data in DC, Maryland, Virginia: 4 Things to Watch as Fall Begins.” (September)

  • Jolynn Gardner was part of the Conference Planning Committee for the Undergraduate Conference for Education in Public Health, ASPPH. (September)

  • Professor Ethan Mereish was interviewed for WTOP about his research on the impact of discrimination on LGBTQ teens (August).

  • Professor Melissa Hawkins spoke to NBC Washington about COVID, kids, and schools (August).

  • The Healthy Schoolhouse 2.0 team, including Lauren Kohls, Dr. Melissa Hawkins, Sarah Little, Robin McClave, Dr. Sarah Irvine Belson and Dr. Stacey Snelling, presented at the virtual poster session of the American School Health Association’s (ASHA) annual conference held July 19-21. The poster titled “Empowering Teachers to Support Healthy Students and Healthy Learners: Healthy Schoolhouse 2.0” was selected as the 2021 recipient of the ASHA Student Poster Award.

  • Gaby Seltzer, DC Central Kitchen, and Robin McClave, Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities, presented virtually at the Just Food Conference hosted by the Culinary Institute of America & New York University. The panel focused on Systemic Racism and Place and shared findings from DCCK’s SNAP matching incentive program in corner stores on produce purchases in underserved areas of DC (June).

  • Jolynn Gardner served as an Advisory Board Member for the Teach Global Health 2021 Summer Institute for Curriculum and Course Design (June).

  • Alison Chrisler was appointed the Executive Editor of The Journal of Child Life (June).

  • Cristian M. Gomez was awarded a grant by the AU Honors Program and Office of Undergraduate Education to participate in the 2021 AU Summer Scholars & Artists Program.
  • Sophie Hathaway was awarded a grant for the Robyn Rafferty Mathias Undergraduate Summer Fellowship.
  • Ellie Kight won the Stafford Cassell Award for her outstanding undergraduate achievements.
  • Anastasia Snelling co-wrote an article in The Conversation about how expanded access to SNAP can help reduce food insecurity faced by college students and support educational achievement. (April)
  • Jolynn Gardner served as a moderator for the John Dingell Health Disparities Panel at the National Cancer Prevention Workshop. (February)
  • Alison Chrisler was appointed a CTRL SoTL Faculty Fellow. Martinique Free was granted the Humanities Truck Fellowship Award for the Black Women’s Movement to Reclaim Our Health Project.
  • Congratulations to Dr. Anastasia M. Snelling, recipient of the 2021 University Faculty Award for Outstanding Contribution to Fostering Collaborative Scholarship! Dr. Snelling was also recognized for the milestone anniversary of 25 years of service.
  • Melissa Hawkins was granted a Humanities Truck Fellowship Award for the Corner Store Communities in COVID-19 (CCC) project; she received a Luce Foundation Grant for food security in DC during covid-19.
  • Anastasia Snelling received a grant for $66,000 from DC Central Kitchen for “Evaluation Services for the Healthy School Food Program's Nutrition Education and Engagement Activities.”
  • MS in Health Promotion Alumni, Meena Nutbeam, published her thesis titled, "Negative Attitudes and Beliefs Toward the #MeToo Movement on Twitter" in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
  • 1st year Public Health Scholar, Rebeka Rafi, was awarded an MLK Eagle Endowment Grant for her project to support food access among those experiencing homelessness in the DMV area.
  • Student Rachel Geisel received an award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Service and Shalini Ramachandra for Outstanding Achievement In undergraduate Research. Professor Jessica Young was recognized for outstanding faculty mentorship in undergraduate research! 
  • Professor Ethan Mereish recently appeared on an important Kojo show to discuss youth suicide rates and a new report from the CDC. Prof. Mereish gave great insight into the issue and poor mental health outcomes as it relates to LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ youth of color, highlighting an important aspect that the report did not address. The article and show were titled Youth Suicide Rates are Increasing. Whats Happening- And What Can We Do to Stop It? This was his first radio show appearance. 
  • Professor Katie Holton and Elizabeth Brandley attended the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research conference in London, during which Holton chaired the opening session, moderated a symposium, and gave a talk about improvements in anxiety and PTSD observed in Gulf War veterans on a low glutamate diet.
  • Professor Jolynn Gardner presented "Empathy Mapping: Improving Design and Effectiveness of Health Promotion Interventions" at the Art and Science of Health Promotion Conference in April.
  • Professor Celeste Davis will participate in Organizing for Health: A Public Health Awakened Training in October as a member of the DC Public Health Awakened leadership team.
  • Professor Jody Gan presented three workshops on self-care and wellness for academic excellence for first generation college students through CollegeTracks Success Orientation in Maryland.
  • Professor Elissa Margolin was invited by the International Human Rights Law Clinic to give a talk on the use of mindfulness as a tool to build resilience and promote professional sustainability, particularly in the context of international legal work that involves vicarious trauma. The class was held on February 22, 2019 and was titled Trauma Stewardship, “Winning” and “Losing,” Sustainability and Professional Identity. 
  • Professor Jessica Young published Does most of your paycheck go to rent? That may be hurting your health in The Conversation.
  • Professor Jessica Young published Associations between Obesity, Obesogenic Environments, and Structural Racism Vary by County-Level Racial Composition. Hear an interview with Dr. Young (starting at 14:36) in Money Alone Can't Save Us: Why Are Black Women Disproportionately Dying During Childbirth?
  • Dr. Jolynn Gardner moderated the Cancer Disparities and Inequities Panel at the National Cancer Prevention Workshop on Capitol Hill on February 6, 2019.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Cotter facilitated a continuing education seminar on February 6, 2019 at Children's National Medical Center titled, "Mindfulness as a Tool to Promote Healthy Eating." This continuing education seminar focused on the use of mindfulness-based interventions to address eating and weight-related concerns, integrating theory and research with practical tools that can be used with clients.
Tim Doud with his Art at Amtrak mural “A Great Public Work”

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Recent Events

On October 27, department chair, Dr. Stacey Snelling moderated a webinar featuring Dr. Margo Wootan, DSc- President of MXG Strategies, on Supporting Health through Food Policy. Dr. Wootan is known for her efforts in improving school food, requiring calorie labeling at fast-food and other chain restaurants, requiring trans-fat labeling on packaged foods, improving children’s menus at restaurants, reducing unhealthy food marketing aimed at children, and expanding on nutrition and physical activity programs at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Having been named one of the Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink by Fortune Magazine, she is also a co-founder of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) and the Food Marketing Workgroup.

To provide some context for the scope and importance on Dr. Wootan’s work, Dr. Snelling gave some background on food statistics in the United States. “Food is the number one cause of poor health”, Snelling said. “Unfortunately, now we have surpassed tobacco and therefore, one would say that Americans are sick because of food choices, rather than healthier.” The current pandemic has exacerbated several causes of these outcomes including food insecurity.

Wootan addressed how attention to food and nutrition has skyrocketed since the 1990s, particularly in the political sphere. Much of this attention is due to the push from former first lady, Michelle Obama, and her “Let’s Move!” campaign. It used to be that “I would call and call and call in order to get a meeting with a congressional office and even then, would get the intern or legislative correspondent,” Wootan said. “And over time, just watching that interest grow to where members of Congress or assembly members would call me and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to do something.” This shift also included public interest and concern for better health and the environment. Grocery stores began to stock shelves with organic and plant-based options as the demand for such products grew. Dr. Wootan went on to describe how food marketing changed as a result of increased awareness surrounding nutrition and health outcomes, particularly in schools. “There’s still a lot of work to do and I think the food system still works against people more than it does for them,” she said. But recent changes in policy on the state and local levels have built momentum to the point where “the soft drink and snack food industry felt that their customers no longer wanted soda and junk food in schools and were getting too much bad press to make it work it.”

Dr. Wootan talked about local policies and the Healthy Hunger Free Kids act that pulled unhealthy snacks from schools. She mentioned how food policy changes are affected on every level but the national press surrounding nutrition in communities has helped develop momentum for the movement.

She explained how food manufacturers pay grocery stores to feature their products in high touch areas. Well-funded companies such as Coca Cola, have the resources to place their product in multiple places throughout the store, which markets to a shopper’s subconscious. On average, food manufacturers spend twice as much on marketing in supermarkets than they do on external advertising. Some companies even pay supermarkets to place their product, 25 different places around the store. “A number of advocates around the country, are encouraging supermarkets directly to clean up their act, and instead of promoting junk food so heavily, to switch things around and take control of their shelves,” Wootan said. Policy changes for supermarket regulation are still on a grassroots level but are predicted to experience significant increases in momentum in the coming months.

Dr. Wootan was then asked about her proudest moment in her food policy career. “I think the policy that’s had the biggest impact is Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act,” she said. A USDA study that came out earlier this year showed that the act has improved school lunches by about 40%. She also talked about labeling trans fat on products and ultimately eliminating it from the food supply. This significantly reduced the number of heart attacks per year by about 50,000 and made the policy more equitable. Regardless of education, race, economic status or time constraints, Americans do not have to be conscious of avoiding trans-fat.

A participant questioned why food policy and chronic disease are not a major issue for most politicians, since data shows they cause the majority of health concerns in Americans. Dr. Wootan explained how making prevention a priority is difficult. Things that cause death more suddenly and are out of an individual’s control receive more attention because they are scarier whereas things that kill more slowly, do not receive as much attention. “Its just the way we perceive risk,” she said.

Dr. Wootan used the COVID-19 pandemic as an example: “We’d all agree that the pandemic is terrible…200,000 people have died and its something that should be a priority…but unhealthy eating habits kill three times as many people every year.” Dr. Wootan continued that many people see food choices as an individual choice and think less about the social determinants or marketing that play into our ability to make choices. “Clearly, this is not an individual failing. This is a societal problem.”

To conclude, Dr. Wootan was asked to debunk the myth that eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk. She mentioned how the USDA has conducted studies indicating that fruits and vegetables are not more expensive than snack foods. An apple or a banana is generally cheaper than a bag of chips or a candy bar and is often more filling. She also noted how there are ways to shop for household food items that people tend to buy anyway but in a way that’s both health and affordable. “Look at the generic brand whole wheat pasta, rather than the fancy Italian white pasta!” she said. In the end, it saves money on health care costs as well, but for immediate shopping needs, “it does take some education.”

On September 30, 2020, esteemed Health Promotion Management alumni, Wolf Kirsten, Founder of International Health Consulting and Co-Founder of Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces, presented to alumni, current, and prospective students on Global Health Promotion in Times of a Global Pandemic. Moderated by Department Chair, Stacey Snelling, Kirsten provided background on his journey from AU to starting his own consulting company and launching a global healthy workplace awards system. 

Wolf Kirsten began development of the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces as a result of being part of a World Health Organization (WHO) panel of experts to develop a model that reflected health in the workplace. Areas within the Healthy Workplace model included psychosocial work environment, personal health resources, physical work environment and enterprise community involvement. While this model may have been comprehensive, a rollout strategy was needed to connect the model to the corporate sector. The solution became the Global Healthy Workplace Awards program. 

The awards program drew success as it spread through the corporate world, recruiting various countries, public and private enterprises of different sizes, and government organizations. By using the WHO model, awards are scored based on a questionnaire and proof of execution within the company. A panel of Global Awards judges review the applications and choose two finalists from three categories based on size. The six companies are then invited to the Global Healthy Workplace Summit, where they present on their workplace program and are given a score by the judges that accounts for a percentage of the final score. Since 2013, the summit has been held in a different country each year but will be virtual in 2020.  

“The Global Summit will explore how to build organisational resilience during times of crisis and address business continuity and mental wellbeing challenges featuring key speakers from the ILO, IES, ABCHealth, Optum and Arogyaworld, as well as presentations from the world’s best workplace health programmes from GSK, HSBC, Cognosante, Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital, APHRC and Swisse Wellness. Plus the findings from the global Working at Home Wellbeing Survey will be released.”

The Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces has also initiated other projects worldwide. Duty of Care for non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) was examined to help to create uniformed standards for employee wellbeing. The Healthy Investments project is a study into how investors and financial institutions perceive healthy workplaces in valuing their portfolio, outside of financial indicators only. Another current global project is the Working from Home Wellbeing Survey which uses an instrument developed by the Institute of Employment Studies in the UK to assess the impact of working from home on a global scale. Finally, the Global Centre launched the Global Alliance for Healthy Workplaces in 2016 which brings together key international organizations and leading corporations for a stronger global voice and alignment of initiatives.

The Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces provides a space in which organizations worldwide can come together to achieve a higher standard of wellness for their employees and seeks to achieve a healthier, more productive working experience, regardless of company size, location or circumstance.

Anastasia Snelling and Necia Freeman on stage

On October 22, 2019, the Department of Health Studies (DHS) hosted Necia Freeman at a screening of the Netflix Oscar Nominated Documentary short,Heroin(E) a panel event for students, DHS faculty, and DHS staff. This documentary details three Hunting West Virginia native's (a fire chief, a judge, and a missionary) quest to save their community from the heroine epidemic in the Region. Missionary at Back Packs and Brown Bags Ministry, Necia Freeman, came to speak on what is being done in the community now, details on drug court, and the future of Huntington. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Anastasia Snelling.

Bob Rosen

Bob Rosen is Chairman and CEO of Healthy Companies International. Bob Rosen is the best-selling author of eight books, including the New York Times bestseller, Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World, and the Washington Post bestseller, CONSCIOUS: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life. Bob Rosen presented to faculty and staff in the Department of Health Studies, Human Resources, and AhealthyU about leadership on September 18, 2018. 

Dr. Karambu Ringera

On October 4, 2018, Dr. Karambu Ringera from Meru, Kenya gave an enlightening talk on the importance of empowerment for creating social change. Regardless of a person’s life situation, it is imperative for a person to feel that they have the self-efficacy necessary to take charge of their life. This is essential for improving health behaviors, yet people who come from challenging situations often think of themselves as victims, rather than leaders. Dr. Ringera challenged this paradigm and gave examples of how she is inspiring change in marginalized groups in Kenya by empowering individuals to find change within themselves.

Speaker address crowd beside a slide that says My New Story

The Department of Health Studies showed the documentary, The Liberation, on November 5, 2018. The Liberation tells the story about recovering addicts, former drug dealers, and felons going through the DC Central Kitchen Culinary Training Program. Students from Professor Young’s Living and Dying in DC class and Professor Davis’ Food Justice Matters class attended the event, as well as students, faculty, and staff in the Department of Health Studies. Brendan Canty, one of the directors of the film and Professors Celeste Davis and Jessica Young led a panel to answer questions and discuss the film.

Two women with a microphone at a table speak to a man in a chair.

panelists Rodrigo Stein, Jessica Rogers, and Molly McGlinchyOn February 19, 2019, the Department of Health Studies (DHS) hosted The Role of Community Organizations in Promoting Health in DC for students, DHS faculty, and DHS staff. Rodrigo Stein, Health Promotion and Health Equity Manager at La Clinica del Pueblo, Jessica Rogers, Development Operations Manager at DC Central Kitchen, and Molly McGlinchy from Capital Area Food Bank led a panel discussion about how their organizations are promoting health in Washington, DC and how students can get involved in their organizations. Professor Melissa Hawkins moderated the panel discussion.