Get to Know Center Faculty: Dr. Lindi Chuang
Published: July 22, 2022
Dr. Ru-Jye (Lindi) Chuang is a Faculty Associate at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston and a member of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living. Her journey to public health began in Taiwan, where she grew up and majored in public health in college. Her true interest started when she did an internship with the Health Department at her hometown during her senior year of college.
“At that time, I was very fascinated about the community-based health programs that not just follow the government policy, but also empower the local people to assess what their needs are,” Dr. Chuang said. “It’s more of a bottom-up versus top-down kind of approach to health.”
The community-focused approach to public health motivated Dr. Chuang to continue her education with a master’s degree in Public Health from College of Medicine, National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, and a doctorate in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences from the UTHealth School of Public Health. Now, her research focuses on healthy eating and physical activity. She was initially interested in learning how to evaluate programs with physical activity intervention, but as she learned more about the links between physical activity and healthy eating, her research evolved to explore nutrition and intervene in the obesity cycle. Dr. Chuang says the most significant public health problem in her field of study is systematic inequity.
“We see the lower-income population and health issues or challenges that they encounter,” Dr. Chuang explains. “It’s more apparent to me that it’s a systematic issue.”
Lower-income populations have unique and reoccurring health challenges, like food insecurity, often due to their environments rather than behaviors. Recently, the pandemic has increased this inequity. Dr. Chuang explained that to make a real difference in this population, the public health workforce needs to collaborate to address everything more systematically.
Dr. Chuang would like to see more progress in the mental health field of public health, mainly because of the pandemic or after the pandemic. She’d also like to see more awareness and collaborations around combating health inequity.
“If someone is stressed about not being able to meet their basic needs, such as bringing food to the table or paying electricity bills, they don’t really have the bandwidth to consider the nutrition content of their food and when was the last time they exercise.” Dr. Chuang explained. “So, until we join force and help them to navigate the system on those more burning issues, we can’t talk to them about exercising three times a week. It’s not their priority. It’s more about understanding the needs of the community, and coordinate sustainable ways to address them.”
She addresses this with her project, Brighter Bites, which aims to impact eating behavior among low-income families by providing fresh produce and nutrition education.
“I not only get to see the data in the academic side of it, but I also get to go out to the actual programming sites, usually at a school, to meet the people that actually participate in the program, and see their faces light up when they receive their produce box,” Dr. Chuang said.
Seeing the human side of her research brings her to most satisfaction. She’s also worked on HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living), ENRICH (Encouraging Nurturing Responsiveness to Improve Child Health), and Lunch is in the Bag. These projects bring practical tools to families to set them up for success, like parenting and cooking skills.
“I really enjoy the part of my work where we can empower people and set them up for a healthier lifestyle,” Dr. Chuang said.
Dr. Chuang likes working with students on these projects because she says they bring a fresh set of eyes and ideas and ask great questions, and their excitement and motivation are contagious.
Dr. Chuang also loves to hear from former students she mentored, especially when they can connect their past studies to their careers. Her investment in the future of the public health force is evident when she spoke about how rewarding it is to see their growth and excitement. “It’s really encouraging to me, knowing that I somehow helped setting them up for success.”
Read more about Dr. Chuang and her projects here.