Q&A with Balanced Intern, Julia Ryan
This summer, Balanced welcomes its first intern Julia Ryan, an MS/MPH candidate from the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University. Read on to learn more about her background, goals, and insightful take on our crisis of diet-related disease!
Tell us about yourself! Where are you from, what are you studying, and what are some of your interests?
I am from the Philadelphia metro area. Although I have had the privilege of traveling and studying abroad, my move to Boston to attend Tufts is my first long-term residence outside of Philadelphia. I suppose I am becoming a bit of a Bostonian although I will always pronounce “water” as “wooder!”
I am a recent college graduate and have a BS in Public Health. As an MS/MPH student at Tufts University, I am currently completing courses within the Food and Nutrition Policy and Programs division at the Friedman School!
Outside of school, I enjoy trying new recipes and restaurants. Spending time outdoors is a priority of mine as well. Growing up, my parents certainly encouraged a love of all things nature while hiking, camping and kayaking. These experiences have helped shape my interests in public health and nutrition. Sunshine, fresh air and movement are so important and should be accessible to all.
I also love spending time with friends and family while enjoying a meal together, something that is sorely missed during this current public health crisis. I am looking forward to spending time with the Balanced team this summer!
What drew you to nutrition as a discipline, and what do you hope to accomplish as a budding nutrition advocacy professional?
While in college, a great deal of my studies focused on chronic, diet-related diseases. I became increasingly alarmed by the weight placed on pharmaceuticals to treat these problems. I believe nutrition is medicine and wanted to dive deeper into this area. I have had the privilege of accessing nutrient-dense, whole foods throughout my life and understand the benefits of diet in both prevention and treatment of health problems.
While I think the Philadelphia food scene is diverse, it is also rife with unhealthy options. There are also widespread accessibility issues, something I witnessed first hand particularly while I attended Temple University. As I contemplated various specialties within public health, these observations and personal experiences helped solidify my desire to become a nutrition advocacy professional. I would like to help foster a better understanding of nutrition’s role as a social determinant of health. I am encouraged by the efforts taking place in schools, hospitals and workplaces today.
What changes would you like to see in food environments across the country?
I was drawn to the mission of Balanced because I agree with their stance on our current food environments. Healthy, nutrient-dense options must be available at institutions such as schools, hospitals and offices to facilitate healthy choices.
I recently read a great article about the cafes found at the Google headquarters. They have revitalized workplace eating spaces. It is important to provide nutrient-dense options in a welcoming environment. Google was able to transform their cafeteria from a sterile, somewhat drab space into an environment that welcomes community and healthy eating habits. Maintaining access to nutrient-dense foods and safe food environments is perhaps more important now than ever, especially for our country’s children.
Finally, throughout my public health education, we often discussed the “loneliness epidemic.” Increasingly, it seems many Americans consume meals without the company of others. I think changes to food environments across the country should include an increased focus on community and mental health in addition to providing nutrient-dense options.
If there’s one nutrition or public health message you wish everyone knew, what would it be and why?
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted our nation’s existing public health inequities, particularly in the food and nutrition space. It is important to understand that food is not simply fuel for one’s body. Food affects one’s physical, mental and emotional health. Through professional and personal experience, I am familiar with the role of the gut microbiome and its relationship with the brain and body. In fact, normal gut bacteria produce 95% of the serotonin in our body! Serotonin is largely responsible for our moods, feelings of happiness and overall mental well-being.
If I were to condense this into one takeaway message, it would be the commonly-used phrase, “Listen to your gut.” We want to consume food that makes our gut happy and healthy, first and foremost. As such, every person should be able to access nutrient-dense foods and healthy, safe food environments. People cannot thrive without access to these options.
What do you hope to learn, or how do you hope to grow, over the course of your time with Balanced?
I think my projects with Balanced will allow me to further expand on my nutrition communication skills. It is important to remember that for nutrition information to have a substantial impact it must be digestible for all relevant audiences. Based on my reading and discussions thus far, I think Balanced does a great job in achieving this. I am hoping to clearly articulate the science and proven research with the upcoming MythBusters series!
In addition, I am looking forward to exploring areas I am less familiar with. I am hoping to gain a better understanding of the advocacy work and its paths to success. Public health and nutrition organizations, Balanced included, unfortunately face many obstacles in this area. As I work to become a professional nutrition advocate, the best way to learn is through observation and practice!
Overall, I am excited to work with the Balanced team. I hope to contribute to various threads, blog posts and projects in support of their mission. I have no doubt that I will learn something new about nutrition throughout this process!