Transdisciplinary Research Is Needed for Positive Health Outcomes

Article excerpt

In the session on "Opportunities for Transdisciplinary Research and Action" during the Ecology of Obesity conference held at Cornell June 6 and 7, 2005, Amanda Birnbaum, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health at Weill Cornell Medical College, cited improvements in maternal mortality in the developed world as an example of how positive health outcomes can be gained through environmental change. The incidence of life-threatening complications from pregnancy is the same throughout the world, she said, yet the reason that women in developed countries don't die in the large numbers that women in the developing world do is that they have access to emergency obstetrical care.

"It makes no sense to tell a woman who is having an obstetrical emergency to go and get care if none is available," Birnbaum said. "In the same vein, before telling people that they should work hard to make changes in their diet and physical activities, we should first change the environment to ensure their success."

Carol Devine, an associate professor in Cornell's Division of Nutritional Sciences, spoke of the shift in role that researchers must accept if they are to conduct meaningful community-based research aimed at obesity prevention.

"To create community engagement, researchers can no longer function as the experts in all things," said Devine, who is conducting two community-based research projects in New York State, one in rural Delaware County and the other in a worksite in the city of Rochester. "It's a waste of your time if community members don't take the project on as their own."

What outside researchers can provide are study design; assessment tools; and assistance in data collection, interpretation, and design of locally chosen interventions, according to Devine. …