Lisa Bailey-Davis, M.A., R.D.
“We have to focus on sustainable food systems,” said Bailey-Davis, who feeds her family grass-fed beef from a local farm, free-range chicken, and fresh produce from two community-supported agriculture farms (CSAs). “Dr. Laura Frank at IU is doing a great job bringing attention to the issue of sustainability,” she said.
Bailey-Davis runs for exercise, is involved in Scouting with her 6- and 8-year-old sons, and looks forward to getting back to gardening when she is done with her doctoral studies. “We try to be active as a family as much as possible,” she said, “and, even though it can be very challenging, we make time for dinner together every day. My husband is really supportive, and he helps to cook and shop.”
As a research associate with the Center for Health Research, Geisinger Health Systems in Danville, PA, Bailey-Davis pursues her research agenda focused on understanding the correlates and determinants of childhood obesity, the interaction between food environment, food systems, and food decisions, and prevention research. According to Bailey-Davis, “Geisinger is the largest rural health system in America, which provides an excellent forum for addressing my concerns related to rurality and childhood obesity.”
Before joining Geisinger, at Pennsylvania State University, Bailey-Davis was co-coordinator for the Community Engagement Research Core, Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and a senior instructor, Division of Health Services Research, Department of Public Health Sciences, College of Medicine. She has spent years researching childhood obesity and has spearheaded several initiatives aimed at educating families, communities, schools and health care providers about nutrition and the importance of an active lifestyle.
Bailey-Davis began her professional life as a nutritionist in a long-term care facility, but her goal was to become a registered dietitian. “I had a bachelor’s degree in nutrition,” she said, “but I was looking for a program that coupled the master’s with the registered dietitian credential, which requires a supervised internship, and Immaculata offered that.”
Though her commute to classes at IU took an hour and a half one way, Bailey-Davis said, “I knew it was a good place to study.”
Bailey-Davis wound up doing her internship at Reading Hospital and Medical Center, which was halfway between her home in Harrisburg, PA and Immaculata, and her internship turned into full-time employment when the hospital created a job for her.
“I worked half the time as a clinical dietitian doing inpatient nutrition management services, and the other half doing out-patient weight and diabetes management,” said Bailey-Davis. “As soon as I was R.D. eligible I started working at Reading, and I stayed there for a couple of years.”
Eventually, Bailey-Davis went to work for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, a position that was an even better fit. “I’ve always been more of a prevention-oriented person,” she said. “As a public health nutritionist I would be involved in health promotion and disease prevention.”
It was there that Bailey-Davis wrote her first grant. “I was incredibly lucky,” she noted. “I had no idea how hard it is to get grant funding.”
Bailey-Davis applied to the CDC for a statewide nutrition program to prevent obesity and related diseases—and she was awarded. “I then used a lot of the skills from my education to bring stakeholders together to create a state plan,” she said.
The plan was published and eligible for the next round of CDC funding. According to Bailey-Davis, “We were one of only three states in the country awarded this funding.”
The next step was creating a coalition, Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity (PANA), that developed an initiative that set specific goals for schools, community recreation spaces, and health care providers, “our three big target areas.”
“We had a school campaign that focused on improving policies and practices,” said Bailey-Davis. “About 1,700 school buildings in 90 percent of the state’s school districts participated, and that was wonderful.”
After the birth of her first child, Bailey-Davis took a year off before going to Penn State where PANA was housed. “I was their operations director,” she said. “I was in charge of evaluation, nutrition programming, and I was a grant writer.”
By 2012, Bailey-Davis had received more than $10 million in grants either as a principal investigator (PI) or co-PI, much of it competitively awarded, with funding coming from the CDC, NIH, Robert Wood Johnson, and the USDA, all of it focused on nutrition.
Given all the programs, initiatives, and efforts to educate and raise awareness, especially in the area of childhood obesity, Bailey-Davis admitted, “It can be hard when the trends are going upwards. We’re pleased whenever we’re able to find something that’s meaningful to help explain the epidemic and move the needle in the opposite direction.”
Though Bailey-Davis had long suspected that there were disparities that needed addressing when it came to children living in the most rural areas of the state, “It took so many years of surveillance data to demonstrate it,” she said. “Folks living in those areas are getting some attention now, and I feel good about that. But many things need to change. The messages they’re getting are not practical.”
Bailey-Davis pointed out that people living in remote communities are driving long distances to big box stores to purchase processed food. “It’s impossible for nutrition education to make a difference,” she said, “unless healthy choices are available and affordable.”
One of the ways Bailey-Davis sees solutions emerging is by “thinking about who the audience is in public health nutrition, what the best message is, and realizing that policy makers and industry absolutely need to be an audience.”
Bailey-Davis said, “I love this work, and I keep trying to move the needle in some small way, but I think it’s going to take a more grass-roots type of effort.
“Helping people think about food, raising consciousness is so important,” she added. “We need many more Immaculata nutritionists working on this so that complex solutions remain possible.”