My journey for the pursuit of my career in public health nutrition has been a long one. In my previous life, as I call it, I held management positions in various companies unrelated to public health. However my passion for food and nutrition started as a child in a household where cooking and talking about food was the center of our daily lives. I was born and lived in counties whose cultures were intimately intertwined with food and cooking. I was born in Istanbul, Turkey from Greek parents and spent the first 20 years of my life travelling between Turkey and Greece. The long and rich history of that region brought together people from diverse backgrounds, shaping the culinary traditions of that region with exotic ingredients, different cooking methods, and eating habits that hold till today.
It was no surprise that my family’s culinary habits were influenced by this rich tradition. Preparing our dinner meal was (and still is) a daily ritual that involved the entire family and culminated in a two-hour feast. Our dinner time discussions mainly involved going over the recipes we already made and sharing little secrets on how to make them tastier. But taste was not at the expense of healthfulness. I credit my family for always striving to keep that balance in the way they cook. So, early on I developed an interest in food’s important role in health promotion and disease prevention.
Guided by my desire to pursue a career related to nutrition, I took science classes in numerous universities to fulfil the prerequisites for a graduate degree in nutrition while working in management. When the time was right, I enrolled to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for a master’s in public health, nutrition track. In the meantime, I was witnessing the constant growth of obesity in both the US and Europe, especially among children, coupled with changing eating habits and the divergence from traditional foods. These disturbing trends and my passion for nutrition and disease prevention sparked my interest to pursue a doctoral degree in public health nutrition and to become a registered dietitian.
My main research focus is childhood obesity prevention, especially among low income and ethnic minority youth. I am interested in exploring how social, cultural, behavioral and environmental factors affect food choice and weight status. I have worked with diverse groups, including low-income inner city populations, African American, Hispanic, American Indian, and other ethnic minority youth in the United States, and I conducted community and school-based interventions to improve children’s dietary intake and increase physical activity.
I received a PhD from the University of Minnesota; an MHS from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, an MBA from the University of New Hampshire; and a BS from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.