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Nutritional Sciences PhD Student Seeks to Help Others Lead Healthier Lives

Nutritional Sciences PhD Student Seeks to Help Others Lead Healthier Lives

Matthew Landry is a third-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and the Delegate at Large for Students at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.

How did you first become interested in nutritional sciences, and what motivates you to continue your work in this area?

Growing up in South Louisiana, food has always been a major aspect of my life. I've always had an interest in the relationship between food and health. I am inspired to improve the public's health through better nutrition and food-related behaviors. I feel that many people are disproportionately affected by socioeconomic barriers and constraints, and they lack resources to eat healthy, nutritious diets. If I can improve the dietary intake of individuals, then I can potentially reduce their risk for chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease—and that's exciting and motivating.

You're currently a doctoral candidate in Nutritional Sciences. What is your specific area of focus?

My current research here falls in two main areas. My work examines the impact of the overall dietary quality and composition of a healthful diet on obesity, metabolic syndrome, and risk factors for chronic diseases in low-income children. Additionally, my research seeks to accurately conceptualize and measure food insecurity in children to understand how determinants of health exacerbate short- and long-term health inequalities.

I primarily work on Jaimie Davis' TX Sprouts project. We're examining the effects of a one-year school-based gardening, cooking and nutrition program that targets over 2,400 third- to fifth-grade students, as well as their families, from 16 elementary schools in the Austin area. Within this project, I manage the collection of 24-hour dietary recalls in the students, which gives us an idea of what the child has been eating and drinking and how their diets hopefully improve as a result of the intervention trial.

This past year, you've served as the national student delegate for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What does that role entail?

As a student representative, one of my major concerns is to make sure students' thoughts about changing dietetic registration eligibility requirements are heard. One of my primary responsibilities is to review and provide guidance on Academy student membership benefits, programs, products or services. I also collaborate with Academy organizational units as needed to provide student member-focused feedback on programs, products or services and provide guidance on grassroots student membership initiatives.

My work as the delegate primarily culminates at the fall and spring House of Delegates meetings. During the fall meeting, we discussed how nutrition and dietetics practitioners can secure influential public health positions in institutions, organizations, and government bodies. The spring meeting is coming up in April. Between these meetings, I reach out to students around the country to get their opinions as well as students here on UT's campus within the Department of Nutritional Sciences.

What have been some of the big challenges or questions that the Academy has grappled on that you, and the students you represent, have weighed in on?

I think one of the biggest ongoing challenges the Academy faces is continuing to advocate for the roll and expertise of registered dietitians. Everyday, there's headlines written and promoted by individuals with little to no education or background in nutrition. Just about anyone can take a quick online course and then claim they're a nutritionist. However, registered dietitians-nutritionists (RDNs) are food and nutrition experts who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living. They go through formal education programs like those that UT Austin offers, such as the Didactic Program in Dietetics or the Coordinated Program in Dietetics. [Editor's Note: UT Austin has recently introduced a new Online Master's Program in Nutritional Sciences.] Therefore, RDNs truly are experts in their field and are in the best positions to provide evidence-based recommendations. The Academy constantly seeks feedback on how to further advance the profession from both current RDNs and students.

What have been some of the most memorable moments for you so far as a national student representative?

In my role, I have a really unique opportunity to connect with a large, diverse constituent base. I enjoy getting to reach out to students across the country, listening to their thoughts, their concerns and their success stories of innovative things that are happening on their college campuses, internship sites and communities. The Academy is currently celebrating its 100th year of establishment, and as it moves into its second century, it's been exciting to represent students as the organization drafts its goals and vision for the next 100 years. After all, students are the future of the profession. 

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Monday, 10 December 2018

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