Ragsdale to speak at SEC Symposium

Kathleen Ragsdale

Her progressive approach to addressing childhood obesity began when she heard the story of a teen mother giving her infant a bottle of Dr. Pepper.

"If it's OK for me, why wouldn't it be OK for my baby?" the mother asked.

When applied medical anthropologist Kathleen Ragsdale heard those words, she knew she had to do something.

"I knew immediately that if one adolescent mother was using this kind of 'cultural logic' to inform her decisions about infant feeding, there probably were many others doing the same thing," Ragsdale explained.

The Mississippi State University associate research professor said she immediately returned to her office at the nationally recognized Social Science Research Center and began writing a research-grant proposal. That effort would provide funding for www.eBaby4U.com, a technology-based outreach website and YouTube channel created specifically for minority teen mothers.

The online tools, funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the MSU Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station's Special Research Initiative, launched in June. The SSRC's Media Collaboration Laboratory produced the eBaby4U logo, website and videos in which several Hispanic and African-American MSU researchers are featured.

The cutting-edge initiative has received attention from other childhood-obesity authorities in the Southeastern Conference. In recognition of her achievements, Ragsdale will be a featured speaker at the annual SEC Symposium, "Prevention of Obesity: Overcoming a 21st Century Public Health Challenge."

The second annual symposium will be held Sept. 21-23 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Representatives from all 14 SEC institutions will cover a wide range of obesity-related topics, all focusing on prevention and treatment.

In addition to presenting "eBaby4U: Filling the Gap in Tech-Based Outreach for African-American Teen Moms," Ragsdale will participate in a panel presentation titled "Technology- and Media-Based Interventions to Prevent Obesity."

Sylvia H. Byrd, MSU professor of food science, nutrition and health promotion and Ragsdale's faculty colleague, will moderate the panel.

Because almost no online programs exist for minority teen mothers, Ragsdale said she saw a clear need to create a website and videos to help young mothers learn how to make healthy food choices for their infants.

"At the community level, we are interested in such things as whether young moms have access to infant foods that our both affordable and nutritious," said the University of Florida doctoral graduate. "At the organizational level, we are interested in policies and organizational structures that hinder or promote 'best practices' when it comes to infant feeding, such as policies that make breastfeeding more compatible for young moms attending school.

"Finally, at the policy level, we are interested in how local, state and federal policies can impact how adolescent mothers feed their infants."

Ragsdale said eBaby4U's web presence is driven by three major research objectives that target minority teen mothers, including:

-- How to optimize their infant-feeding outcomes.

-- How to adapt content for the target population in a culturally relevant way.

-- How to publicize content to make it easily accessible to minority teen mothers.

"It's an honor to be representing Mississippi State University and the SSRC at the symposium and it's a privilege to have an opportunity to tell an entirely new audience of leading obesity-prevention researchers in the Southeast about eBaby4U.com," Ragsdale said.

In addition to Ragsdale and Byrd, keynote speakers will include Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer for the American Heart Association, on Sept. 21, and Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, on Sept. 22.

Learn more about the SEC Symposium at www.secsymposium.com.

For more information about Ragsdale's work, visit www.eBaby4U.com or search "eBaby4u videos" on YouTube. Discover more about MSU's SSRC at www.ssrc.msstate.edu.

Leah Barbour | Public Affairs

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