The ASN Science Policy Fellowship is offered to advanced graduate students, early professionals, postdoctoral trainees, or medical interns, residents, or fellows. The intent of the Fellowship is to allow for an expanded understanding of current nutrition policy issues and initiatives. The Fellowship provides recipients with the opportunity to gain an enhanced perspective on public policy issues related to nutrition and facilitates the acquisition of skills and tools necessary to become well-informed advocates for nutrition research and policy.

Dr. Juliana Teruel Camargo, PhD, MPH, is one of two current fellows. She is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Minority Health and Health Disparities Population Lab at the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). She has been a member of ASN since 2017. Read our full interview below.

How did you first get involved in nutrition science and research? What led you to be interested in nutrition policy?

I first got involved in nutrition science and research during my undergraduate studies in Dietetics & Nutrition in Brazil. It was during this time that I served as an undergraduate research assistant in a project assessing the effects of Bolsa Família, a Brazilian Government social welfare initiative aimed at providing conditional cash transfers to impoverished households to combat hunger, particularly focusing on children’s malnutrition. My responsibilities included conducting visits to evaluate children’s anthropometrics, an experience that profoundly shaped my understanding of the challenges families encounter in accessing adequate nutrition. From that pivotal moment, my academic journey has been characterized by a steadfast interest in understanding the social determinants of health and their influence on nutrition. Transitioning from my Master’s studies to my current postdoctoral research, I have continually explored the intricate interplay between societal factors and nutritional well-being. As I delve deeper into the intricacies of nutrition-related health disparities, I increasingly recognize the profound impact of societal structures, structural discrimination, and the formulation of nutrition policies and laws on individual health outcomes. My interest in nutrition policy stems from this profound realization. I am driven by the conviction that the research conducted within our laboratories and workshops possesses the potential to drive positive change and promote health equity. Through our collective efforts, I am committed to leveraging evidence-based insights to advocate for policies that address the underlying social determinants of health, fostering a more equitable and healthier society.

Tell us about your current position and the research activities in which you are involved.

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Minority Health and Health Disparities Population Laboratory within the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes (NHLBI/NIH), and my advisor is Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable.  My research focuses on understanding the impact of social determinants of health on diet and cardiometabolic diseases. I am currently working with the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) dataset, specifically exploring the potential benefits of legumes in mitigating cardiometabolic diseases among Latino adults. Additionally, my work delves into examining how neighborhood food environment and social context acculturation influence legume consumption patterns within Latino communities.

In collaboration with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), I am involved in evaluating the global burden of disease, with a particular focus on protein-energy malnutrition and mortality patterns across diverse racial/ethnic groups, age demographics, and counties in the United States. Furthermore, I am deeply interested in the study of Gestational Diabetes (GDM) and its intersection with physical and sociocultural environments, particularly how these factors contribute to the risk profile for GDM among Latina populations. My research endeavors aim to shed light on the complex interplay between social determinants, dietary habits, and health outcomes, particularly within marginalized and underserved communities.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing nutrition researchers today?

Nutrition research has its fair share of hurdles these days. But, if you ask me, the biggest one is figuring out how to do research that takes into account all the different factors that shape people’s eating habits. I’m talking about everything from individual choices to how communities are set up and ever-broader societal structures. The thing is, we researchers usually get trained to focus on one specific area, which makes sense in some ways. But nutrition? It’s this big, tangled web of influences like culture, city layouts, and how our food gets produced, you name it. So, the real challenge for us nutrition folks is to think beyond our usual boundaries and tackle the complexity head-on, especially in a world that’s always changing.

What influenced your decision to apply to the ASN Science Policy Fellowship program? How do you see yourself benefitting from this position?

I’ve chosen to apply for the ASN Science Policy Fellowship program because I am interested in leveraging nutrition research to influence nutrition policy and prioritize initiatives that advance health equity. While I haven’t had formal training or direct experience engaging with policymakers, I’m enthusiastic about delving into the intricacies of policy development. This opportunity presents a chance for me to gain insight into how these processes unfold and to expand my skill set in this arena.

As I explore potential science career paths in both government and non-government sectors, the fellowship is a valuable avenue for networking and discovering various career opportunities within these realms. It’s a chance for me to connect and gain a deeper understanding of the roles and impact that science can have in shaping policies that positively impact public health and well-being.

What aspects of ASN membership have you found most useful professionally?

Attending the ASN’s annual meetings has been an incredible chance for me to stay on top of the latest research trends, polish my presentation skills, and connect with fellow professionals in the field. I’ve found the webinars hosted by the Early Career Nutrition Interest group to be particularly enlightening. The 2023 webinar on career paths beyond academia was especially insightful for me as a postdoc, sparking new considerations for my future career trajectory.

Additionally, I’ve found immense value in the ASN’s Health & Nutrition Policy newsletter. It’s become my go-to resource for staying informed about pertinent policy changes, upcoming events, and potential funding opportunities. It offers a quick and comprehensive overview of the developments shaping our field, which is invaluable for professionals like myself looking to stay engaged and informed.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell ASN members, especially students?

Absolutely! To all ASN members, especially students, I’d like to encourage you to make the most of the incredible resources and opportunities available within the ASN community. As students, this is an exciting time to dive deep into the world of nutrition science, and ASN provides a vibrant platform to learn, grow, and connect. Take advantage of the various events, webinars, and meetings organized by ASN to expand your knowledge, sharpen your skills, and network with professionals in the field. These avenues offer invaluable experiences and insights that can shape your journey in the nutrition field.

Furthermore, I encourage you to stay curious, keep exploring new avenues within the realm of nutrition science, and never underestimate the power of collaboration and mentorship. Lastly, I urge you to actively engage with the broader nutrition community and advocate for issues that matter to you. Your voice and contributions are vital in driving positive change and advancing the field of nutrition for better public health and well-being.