Member Spotlight

Q&A with Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika

Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH

Research Professor, Department of Community Health and Prevention

Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health

Founding Chair, the Council on Black Health

Core Lead, Solutions to Diabetes in Black Americans Core

Q: Tell me a bit about yourself and your background.

A: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland and then attended Syracuse University, Columbia and Cornell Universities to get my undergraduate, master’s, and PhD degrees. I stayed at Cornell on the faculty for a few years and then went to John’s Hopkins and got a Master of Public Health so I could learn more about epidemiology, which seemed really important to my interest areas. Over the years I have focused my research mostly on obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes that are strongly related to obesity. But I actually started with studies of salt intake and high blood pressure because of my interest in health disparities affecting Black Americans. My work on obesity has not entirely been focused on African American women but I’ve done a lot with trying to see why obesity rates are above average in Black women initially and then in Black girls, and how to make the interventions that we have work as well as possible in Black women and girls. I’ve also engaged in global food and nutrition policy activities, not research, but more on advisory groups and expert panels developing guidelines and recommendations and prevention strategies.

Q: What is the most compelling information that you found in your research today?

Unfortunately, the most compelling information has been figuring out what doesn’t work. The traditional or highly valued behavioral interventions can work well in the protected environment of a research study. But when you get out into the real world there’s more that is needed to make these interventions really work and to stick. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find out what’s missing and what can be added to improve the way these interventions work.

Q: Tell me about what you wish your research could solve right now and or a critical issue that your research could answer in the future.

The biggest area of my research has related to what is needed in terms of the context in which we do weight loss studies realistically, instead of in a tightly controlled research setting is hard to translate to the real world. What needs to be built in or added when people are out in the community trying to follow guidelines for weight control. What’s going on in the food system or in the environments for physical activity? Do people have enough resources of their own? For example, do they have childcare if they want to go to an exercise class? How do we take the fabric of everyday life and make that more supportive of weight management, diabetes control and the other day-to-day influences on eating behaviors?  I wish that I could figure out how to make the way we approach interventions more powerful by considering everything from cultural factors to personal resources and community supports. In other words, I would like to know what does work!

Q: How did the CDTR help you with your research and what services did you use.

The CDTR has been great; you could call it learning by teaching. As the lead for the core that we call Solutions for Diabetes in Black Americans, I see this role as a rubric for finding ways to transfer what we do know about broader solutions to other researchers who are interested in being effective in this space. This has led to more of a health equity focus, i.e., not just looking at issues with Black or other high priority populations for these interventions but also looking at the broader determinants of health disparities that are at work. We’re really looking at approaches that can level the playing field for people who are trying to manage obesity and weight related diseases by making sure they have the resources and supports they need. The CDTR has helped me because in order to provide services from our core, I am empowered to  develop my own thinking about effective approaches and how to disseminate relevant ideas to others. CDTR leadership, members, and users have supported and encouraged further conceptualization and practical translation for our framework for improving the equity impact of research and practice in obesity prevention in the form of a web-based tool that will be accessible from the CDTR website.

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