Heather Wasser (Fall, 2011)
December 27, 2011
Dr. Bentley had me at hello.
“Well, truthfully,” Heather Wasser says, “it was at her talk at the 2004 North Carolina Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Conference. There, she described a longitudinal study she was conducting among low-income African-American mothers and their babies – the Infant Care, Feeding and Risk of Obesity Study (Infant Care).”
At the time, Wasser was working as project coordinator for a child care nutrition improvement program at the Durham County (N.C.) Health Department and also was working with parents and providers to improve infant and toddler feeding practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding, introduction of healthy first foods, and appropriate responses to hunger and satiety cues.
“During her talk, I saw in Dr. Bentley the same passion I have for infant nutrition,” Wasser says. “Think how truly remarkable it is that in one short year, an infant transitions from a single food source (ideally, breast milk) to an omnivorous diet (ideally, one that is nutritionally adequate). He or she also moves from only being able to suck and swallow to developing a pincer grasp, a palmer grasp, and complete self-feeding!”
Wasser thinks the most significant lesson she learned from Peggy Bentley is the importance of culture and context on this transition. Her dissertation, for instance, uses data from the Infant Care study to explore relationships between infant feeding practices and the development of obesity. Her work with Bentley on a collaborative project with ChildFund International – one that has taken her to Senegal and Indonesia – examines risk factors for malnutrition during this same transitional period.
“Because of Dr. Bentley,” Wasser says, “I look forward to a long and fulfilling research career devoted to the promotion of optimal infant and young child feeding practices.”
Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit www.sph.unc.edu/cph.