Janna Adkins, N21, believes food can be medicine. That’s why she’s working to make nutritious food accessible to everyone as part of the Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change (NICBC) program at Friedman. As she prepares to start her next chapter as a NICBC doctoral student, Adkins shares how she became interested in nutrition, what she’s learned so far in graduate school, and her passion for food equity and social justice.
How did you become interested in nutrition?
When my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, she had to drastically change her diet during and after her treatment. That’s when I began to see food as medicine. Fortunately, my mom had the resources to eat what the doctor was recommending. But a lot of underprivileged individuals in the same situation can’t access affordable, healthful foods, so I became more interested in food access and food justice.
Why did you choose Friedman for graduate school?
At Friedman, we’re learning not just about individual behaviors, but about the environment as well. It’s not necessarily the quantity or quality of the food people eat—there are so many other factors that go into why they eat what they eat, when they eat it, and how they cook it. To intervene in someone’s eating habits, you can’t go in with assumptions. You have to give the community or individual the autonomy to make their dietary decisions, because they are the experts on their bodies and health.
Why are you passionate about social justice, food equity, and representation in nutrition?
I didn’t have my first Black teacher until I got to college. And academia is not as racially diverse as it could be—especially nutrition. There was a popular article that said the nutrition field is like Wonder Bread. It resonated with me. I see education as an opportunity, not only to improve myself, but to share that with other people who might not have access to higher education.
I joined the Student Alliance for Social Justice and Racial Equity during my first semester. It brings together people who are concerned about social justice and food justice and racial equity. We’re making an effort not to gatekeep all the knowledge we’re learning at Friedman, but to share it more broadly. For example, we’re working with a gym in Dorchester called Level Ground, designing a nutrition education curriculum for young adults who are learning to become certified personal trainers.
How has your research experience prepared you for the next step in your career?
Since last summer, I’ve been working on one of Associate Professor Sara Folta’s research projects. We’re studying the role of pet dogs in families that have children with autism, since those children often develop close bonds with their pets. We’re developing an animal-assisted intervention to help those children eat more healthfully and exercise more.
I’m thankful that she saw me in the great pool of students here and took the time to hear my interests and extend a helping hand. I’ve gained valuable research experience with her and I’m excited to continue working with her during my Ph.D.
Profile written by Karen Shih.
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