Nora Geary, MPH/MSW ’13, Moves Toward her Dream in Atlanta

Alumni; Public Health

When Nora Geary, MPH/MSW, graduated from the Brown School two years ago, she was wrote down two goals in a Guatemalan “dream holder”: “I wanted to be Michelle Obama’s right-hand woman and end childhood obesity.” She’s not working for the First Lady yet, but Geary is taking it one step at a time. In November, she joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where she’s supporting Ms. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to tackle childhood obesity. She even attended a holiday open house at the White House.

Her work is focused on obesity prevention in early child care through providing states and communities a framework to improve what children eat, how active they are, as well as help them develop a foundation of healthy habits for life.   Improving nutrition, increasing physical activity, reducing kids’ screen time, and supporting breastfeeding are part of the effort.

“It’s an exciting time for me to be working in this area,” Geary said, noting that President Obama referred to the importance of early learning in his State of the Union message. “I feel very lucky.”

Geary got the job through a fellowship from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. She is with the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention, where she helps states and communities improve obesity prevention practices and strategies in child care centers and homes.   Much of the help involves technical assistance, like linking states with inexpensive resources to help child care centers increase physical activity.

Many states have started to incorporate obesity prevention elements into their Quality Ratings and Improvement Systems for child care centers and homes, and Geary is also working on a review of different state standards and pulling out model language that can be shared among them.

Her studies at the Brown School focused on obesity prevention and dissemination of research to policymakers, working with faculty members Ross Brownson, Amy Eyler, Aaron Hipp and Elizabeth Dodson. Upon graduation, she went to work in her hometown at the University of Chicago, where she was a senior project manager on a research study aimed at improving diabetes care and outcomes on the city’s South Side. Then came the fellowship.

Geary said her time at Brown had a big impact on her current job.  “It gave me the real life skills to do this work,” she said.  “It really impacted my perspective about public health,” particularly in the area of transdisciplinary collaboration. “There are so many determinants of health,” she said, adding that her time at the Prevention Research Center “helped me understand and fully appreciate the complexity of these issues. That was a cornerstone of the Brown School curriculum.”