Houk awarded training grant in reproductive, perinatal and pediatric epidemiology

April 9, 2015

Kathryn Houk, a doctoral student in the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Maternal and Child Health, has been selected as a trainee on the T32 reproductive, perinatal and pediatric epidemiology (RPPE) training grant, funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Kathryn Houk

Kathryn Houk

RPPE researchers explore challenges related to the ability to successfully reproduce and have healthy children. Specifically, topics of investigation include breastfeeding and causes of infertility, prematurity, birth defects and disorders such as autism.

Several departments at the Gillings School and the UNC School of Medicine collaborate on projects related to RPPE. The Department of Maternal and Child Health, in which Houk studies, is a frequent contributor to this interdepartmental research.

“As an RPPE trainee, I plan to work on dissertation research that will add to the emerging literature on breastfeeding and postpartum depression (PPD),” said Houk. “PPD is one of the most prevalent complications of childbirth, yet fear of disclosure, lack of knowledge about PPD and low acceptability of antidepressant use lead many depressed women to remain untreated or undertreated. Given the disease burden associated with both PPD and reduced breastfeeding, data are needed to identify risk factors and to test the efficacy of possible public health interventions.”

“I plan to assemble a dissertation committee of interdisciplinary advisors to support these research plans,” she added. “These advisors will include Dr. Miriam Labbok and Dr. Alison Stuebe, with whom I have had the incredible opportunity to work at the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI).”

Houk holds a Master of Science degree in nutrition science and policy from Tufts University’s Friedman School, and continues to work part-time as a research assistant for a Tufts sustainability study of USAID Title II Food Aid Programs in Bolivia, Honduras, Kenya and India.

She works as a research assistant at CGBI as well, supporting projects related to Medicaid reimbursement of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants and the advancement of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in the United States. Her research interests include breastfeeding, perinatal mood disorders and health disparities, especially among Spanish-speaking populations.

“Katie has jumped into the exploration of the evidence base for the BFHI with skill and enthusiasm,” said Houk’s adviser Labbok. “I am sure that her work will be a contribution to the field for years to come.”

Houk also serves as a volunteer doula at UNC Hospitals, as the secretary elect of the American Public Health Association’s Breastfeeding Forum and as a board member of the Global Health Foundation, a Denver-based organization focused on maternal and infant health. She previously worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia, where she promoted basic sanitation.

“I am honored to have been selected as a trainee,” Houk said. “I’ve admired the scholarship of previous trainees like Anna Bauer and Ellen Chetwynd since having them as teaching assistants in courses for my epidemiology minor. I look forward to working alongside all the RPPE faculty and students who are committed to research that improves the health of mothers and infants.”

Houk’s RPPE traineeship represents a one-year commitment, beginning in August 2015.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.

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