For Alyssa Thomas, the a-ha moment came in an undergraduate course on child health disparities. Health outcomes like preterm birth and obesity, she learned, generally defy the easy and incorrect blame often placed on parents.

“I was disturbed to learn about disparities in rates of health outcomes that exist along socioeconomic lines,” she recalled. “The beginning of life, from preconception to early childhood, is such a sensitive and precious period of time in which experiences and exposures set children up for their futures.”

Further moments of insight followed that initial class, and now Alyssa, a second-year MPH student in the Public Health Nutrition concentration, is participating in the CSU Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Nutrition Traineeship. The traineeship is made possible through a partnership with the University of California – Los Angeles’ School of Public Health.

With the mentorship of Dr. Leslie Cunningham-Sabo, a Colorado School of Public Health at CSU faculty member, Alyssa began her traineeship in August and will complete it in May. She is part of a team of MCH trainees at universities around the country.

“As a trainee, I am part of the team providing technical assistance around individual + policy, system, and environmental (I + PSE) approaches to childhood obesity prevention in four rural communities,” she explained. “I am currently programming a mid-point evaluation survey for our four teams to complete. I will also contribute to the MCH Nutrition Trainee ‘Day in the Life’ blog that is upheld by trainees across the country.”

The traineeship also allows her to attend conferences that address current issues and legislation in maternal and child health. This weekend, she will attend Western MCH Nutrition Leadership Network (NLN) Meeting in Redondo Beach, California, which will feature workshops covering the Farm Bill, which funds nutrition assistance programs, approaches to preventing childhood obesity and leadership/communication skill-building. Next month she will attend the MCH Nutrition Grantee Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

She said that among the most important lessons she has learned in her traineeship is that “initiatives that include changes to policy, systems, and environment have a greater impact than approaches that focus only on the individual. This is important when addressing any public health issue, not just nutrition-related issues.”

Alyssa is studying dietetics as well as public health and said her goal is to take the registration examination to become a registered dietitian (RD). As a public health RD, she said she hopes to reduce nutrition-related health disparities by working with mothers and families. 

“By targeting various points in this early period for intervention,” she explained, “we can help reduce disparities and make lasting impacts.”