Skills & Experience
Skills & Experience
Data Analysis & Interpretation
Research Enhancement Grant from Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi for proposals at the nexus of water, energy and food
First Place Winner, TAMUCC 3 Minute Thesis Competition
Graduate Studies Scholarship, TAMUCC
Presidential Scholarship, St. John's University
Resident Student Scholarship, St. John's University
Co-Chair, Houston Viral Hepatitis Task Force, 2019
Member, Houston Recovery Initiative, 2019
Education Committee, Baylor College of Medicine, 2019
Population Health Strategic Planning WorkGroup, Baylor College of Medicine 2018
In an increasingly obesogenic environment, an individual's regulatory capacity to pursue nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods over palatable, energy-dense items is essential to maintaining a healthy weight and preventing the detrimental health risks of obesity. Cognitive reappraisal, the process by which one changes the meaning of a stimulus by altering its emotional impact (or in this case, its appetitive value) demonstrates promise as a regulatory strategy to decrease obesogenic food consumption, but little research has directly addressed the relationship between cognitive reappraisal of food cravings and real-world eating behaviors. Additionally, research examining self-regulation of eating has typically focused exclusively on diminishing cravings and consumption of unhealthy, high-calorie foods, rather than examining, in tandem, ways to strengthen (or, up-regulate) cravings for healthier, low-calorie alternatives. In the present study, fifty-seven college aged participants first completed a cognitive reappraisal task in the laboratory in which they practiced regulating their craving responses to high- and low-calorie food items by focusing on the long-term health consequences of repeatedly consuming the pictured foods. Next, for a week following the laboratory session, participants reported daily eating behaviors via ecological momentary assessment. Participants who reported greater up-regulatory success during the reappraisal task also reported increased craving strength for low-calorie foods as well as decreased consumption of high-calorie foods in their daily lives. Greater overall regulation success also predicted more frequent consumption of craved low-calorie foods. These findings substantiate the association between cognitive reappraisal ability and real-world appetitive behaviors, and suggest that future interventions may benefit from specifically targeting individuals' evaluations of low-calorie foods.
Implicit Association Tests (IATs) regarding food attitudes reveal a consistent unpleasant bias against obesogenic foods, in contrast to individuals’ innate, biologically-driven preference toward high calorie food items. However, recent IAT research in this domain has stumbled in selecting stimuli with ecological validity, often choosing items that participants may not perceive as representative of their nutritional value, and using lexical stimuli that fail to capture the full appetitive salience of the target constructs or align with contemporaneous IAT research. In Study 1, we deployed a lexical IAT using stimuli chosen for their perceived caloric value, rather than their objective nutritional content, finding a strong, unpleasant implicit bias toward obesogenic food regardless of participant BMI. In Study 2, we translated the lexical items of our IAT into photographs to produce a visual IAT that better approximates the appetitive salience of the target constructs. Participants continued to demonstrate a robust distaste toward obesogenic foods on the visual IAT, regardless of appetitive factors including weight status, hunger, and predilection toward food addiction. This reliable implicit bias, orthogonal to behavior, is consistent with IAT studies regarding substances of abuse, including tobacco and alcohol.
This research was funded by a Research Enhancement Grant from Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi
While other states have seen a downward inflection in obesity rates, the percentage of overweight and obese Texans continues to rise, likely attributable to the combination of obesogenic agricultural industries endemic to the state and high incidence of populations at risk for obesity and overweight status. Health-focused campaigns like the USDA’s Choose MyPlate seek to promote healthy decision-making by changing consumer attitudes surrounding high calorie foods, but evidence of the efficacy of these campaigns is lacking and traditional dietary interventions are among the least effective treatments for obesity. In the present study, participants (n = 101) provided BMI and completed two Implicit Association Tests (IATs) in counterbalanced order to reveal implicit attitudes toward high and low calorie food items, one featuring lexical stimuli and another using photographic stimuli. Participants responded significantly faster on both versions of the IAT when pleasant stimuli and low calorie food items shared a response key, regardless of BMI. Health campaigns rely on changing consumers’ attitudes in order to reduce obesity rates, yet Texans in the present studies already hold pleasant attitudes toward the low calorie food items that constitute a healthy diet, and these attitudes do not appear to impact weight status. Future efforts by national campaigns to curb the obesity epidemic may be more productive by promoting regular exercise and recreational activities outdoors, as exemplified by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, rather than focusing on dietary interventions.