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Behavioral Health and Wellbeing Lab

The Behavioral Health and Wellbeing Lab's research is primarily focused on

  1. The prevention and treatment of eating and weight-related concerns
  2. Mindfulness-based approaches to improving health behaviors.

The lab is currently developing a mindful parenting intervention intended to reduce parent stress and improve parent feeding behaviors. We are also conducting a nationwide study examining the antecedents and consequences of loss of control eating in young men through daily surveys, in collaboration with the Renew Lab at the University of Oregon. Dr. Cotter and her research team are also working on qualitative research to examine how families in Washington, DC, think about healthy eating and to highlight the existing strengths and assets community members use to promote their families' health. Finally, the lab is collaborating with Dr. Stacey Snelling’s Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities Lab to implement Faithfully Fit, a grant-funded program aimed at developing tailored, peer-led health promotion programming at faith-based organizations in Ward 7, to improve congregation members’ health literacy and reduce their risk for chronic disease.

Research Team

Dr. Elizabeth Cotter, Director

Dr. Elizabeth Cotter is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Studies at American University and the Director of the Behavioral Health and Well-Being Lab. She is a licensed psychologist with research interests related to: 1) the prevention and treatment of eating and weight-related concerns; and 2) mindfulness-based approaches to improving health behaviors. She has published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals in the areas of disordered eating and mindfulness. Her research lab is currently examining how parent mindfulness might influence parents' eating and feeding behaviors. Dr. Cotter is also examining factors associated with disordered eating in young men. In addition, Dr. Cotter is a collaborator on several community-based, chronic disease prevention studies.

Tenzin Choezin

Tenzin Choezin is an undergraduate senior at American University. She is graduating this May of 2021 with her Bachelor of Arts in Public Health while also having completed her Pre-Med requisites. After graduation, she hopes to take on a role gaining more research or clinical experience for a few years before ultimately attending medical school and becoming a physician. Her research interests include maternal and child health, particularly the prevalence of Black maternal mortality, as well as the social determinants of health and health disparities that disproportionately impact marginalized communities.

Hannah Gandell

Hannah Gandell is currently a senior at American University pursuing her BS in Public Health on the Pre-Med track. She has done research regarding mindfulness practices in the past, and is continuing to do so in the Behavior Health and Wellbeing Lab. Hannah’s current research interests surround mindfulness interventions on eating and feeding behaviors within Latinx communities. After her graduation in Spring of 2021, Hannah looks forward to pursuing a fellowship in the Public Health field.

Nikita Kubal

Nikita Kubal is currently a senior at American University. She will be graduating May 2021 with a BS in Public Health on the pre-med track. After graduation she hopes to continue working in a clinical setting while pursing research before applying to medical school. Her research interests include mindfulness, eating disorders, and alternative medicine therapies.

Janae Kuttamperoor

Janae Kuttamperoor is currently a senior undergraduate at American University. She will be graduating in May 2021 with a BA in public health and aspires to attend medical school after gradutation. Her research interests include the integration of mindfulness in children and adolescents' daily lives and how body image preceptions can influence the prevalence of eating disorders among dancers.

Katherine McManus

Katherine McManus is currently a second year master's student at American University. She received her BA in Psychology and Business Economics from the University of Notre Dame in 2016. She then received her MA in Sport and Performance Psychology from University of Denver in 2019. Her research interests include the intersection of body image, eating, and exercise behaviors in athletes as well as physical activity, diet, and small behavioral changes for those at risk for high BMI. Furthermore, she is interested in evaluating the effectiveness of obesity prevention, intervention, and treatment.

Anthony Orsino

Anthony is currently a second-year Public Health (BS) major at American University with a minor in Health Promotion. Anthony looks forward to gaining experience and insight into different focuses within the fields of public health, health promotion, and psychology during his time in the Behavior Health and Well-being Lab. After graduation, Anthony hopes to pursue his Master of Public Health degree and enlist in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Isabel Nunez Pena

Isabel Nunez Pena is an alumni from The Catholic Uniersity of America. She received her BS in Psychological Brain Sciences with a minor in Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) and a Spanish for Health Care Certificate in 2020. She is interested in attending medical school to help serve underpriviledged Hispanic communities. Her resarch interests include multilingualism, immigrants and migrants and young families prevention and intervention.

Nora Nunez Pena

Nora Nunez Pena is currently an undergraduate Senior at American University pursuing a major in Health Promotion on the Pre-Medical track. She is interested in attending medical school in the future to treat her patients in a holistic manner in order to reduce disparity. Her research interests include the social determinants of health, migrant families and preventive medicine.

Jessie Sadel

Jessie Sadel is currently an undergraduate junior at American University. She is currently working to achieve her BS in Public Health with a minor in Biology. She aspires to work for her Masters in Biology after graduation, then attend medical school. Her research interests include community health and the social determinants of health.

Isabel Thorstad

Isabel Thorstad is a senior at American University pursuing a degree in Sociology (BA) and minors in Psychology and Studio Art. Through her honors coursework, Isabel is researching the impact of suicide on social support networks. She is interested in the transformative potential of reflective practices (e.g. mindfulness, gratitude) on individual and group levels. After graduation Isabel plans to gain more clinical experience and apply to graduate programs in order to provide culturally and structurally competent, research-led therapy to teens and adults.

Brooke Wong

Brooke Wong is a junior undergraduate at American University. She is currently working to receive her Bachelor of Science in Public Health in 2022. Her research interest include mindfulness, eating disorders, and gun violence. She recently was published in the Journal of the National Medical Association for her work on Racial Disparities in Firearm Homicide Rates.

Selected Publications

Kelly, N. R., Cotter, E. W., Guidinger, C., & Williams, G. (In press, accepted April 9, 2020). Perceived discrimination, emotion dysregulation and loss of control eating in young men. Eating Behaviors.

Cotter, E. W., Hornack, S. E., Fotang, J. P., Pettit, E., & Mirza, N. M. (2020). A pilot open-label feasibility trial examining an adjunctive mindfulness intervention for adolescents with obesity. Pilot and Feasibility Studies, 6(1), 1-11.

Cotter, E. W. & Jones, N. (2020). A review of mindfulness interventions with Latinx participants. Mindfulness, 11, 529 – 553.

Lydecker, J. A., Cotter, E. W., & Grilo, C. M. (2019) Associations of Weight Bias with Disordered Eating among Latino and White Men. Obesity

Cotter, E. W. & Kelly, N. R. (2018). Stress-related eating, mindfulness, and obesity. Health Psychology, 37, 516 - 525.

Kelly, N. R.; Cotter, E. W.; & Guidinger, C. (2018). Men who engage in both Objective and Subjective Binge Eating Have the Highest Psychological and Medical Comorbidities. Eating Behaviors, 30, 115 – 119

Lydecker, J. A., Cotter, E. W., Palmberg, A. A., Simpson, C., Kwitowski, M., White, K., & Mazzeo, S. E. (2016). Does this Tweet make me look fat? A content analysis of fat stigma on Twitter. Eating and Weight Disorders - Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 21, 229 – 235.

Kelly, N. R., Cotter, E. W., Tanofsky-Kraff, M., & Mazzeo, S. E. (2015). Racial variations in binge eating, body image concerns, and excessive exercise among men. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 16, 326 - 336.

Past Lab Members 

Jenny Fotang

Corinne Pines