University of Michigan, School of Social Work Curtis Center
Brittany Schuler, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan’s Vivian A. and James L. Curtis School of Social Work Research and Training Center. Dr. Schuler began her fellowship in Fall 2016 upon completing her PhD in Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Through her research, she aims to understand the complex system of interactions that influence health disparities across the socioeconomic spectrum, particularly in the areas of pediatric obesity, chronic illness, and maternal and child health. Dr. Schuler is also interested in research at the intersection of health and child welfare, as well as food and nutrition policy, and the role of social work in developing interventions for the promotion of optimal growth in early childhood, particularly within low-resourced, underserved communities.
Dr. Schuler’s current research is focused on examining mechanisms of early life stress (i.e. chronic poverty, neighborhood disorder) and their associations with child health and well-being. This work stems from her dissertation, “Toddler Overweight Prevention: Developing a Model by Socioeconomic Gradients,” which examined variations in characteristics of childhood obesity across socioeconomic gradients and revealed distinct risk profiles for toddler overweight and obesity within each gradient of socioeconomic status. Her current work, supported by collaborations among the University of Michigan’s Schools of Social Work, Public Health, and the Human Growth and Development department focuses on examining both local and national trends in the association between longitudinal poverty and optimal meal time behaviors in early childhood. Ultimately, Dr. Schuler’s research aims to develop community-based interventions that provide low-income neighborhoods with the resources needed to buffer the effects of systemic stressors (e.g., exposure to adverse childhood experiences, inadequate socioeconomic resources) and promote optimal health behaviors to protect children from preventable chronic health conditions that can result in disability, premature death, mental health conditions, and obesity-related stigma.
This study, entitled: Healthy Eating, Healthy Children: Understanding Mechanisms of Stress, Parenting, and Healthy Eating Habits, will use two separate cohorts of high-risk, low-socioeconomic position families to determine how family/household stress exposure is associated with parenting and healthy eating habits in children.
For early-life obesity prevention, healthy eating habits are highly recommended; unfortunately, low-resourced communities face many barriers to engaging in healthy eating. We need to expand our knowledge of the proximal and distal mechanisms that influence decision making around eating habits. Existing research demonstrates the link between high-stress environments and poorer eating habits, as well as links between specific parenting styles and child eating and mealtime behaviors. However, more research is needed to understand the mechanisms that impact the stress-eating association and to account for both parenting and eating behaviors.
To address this gap, this study will assess how parenting is linked to proximal and distal stressors, and whether this, in turn, is linked to mealtime behaviors and the quality of foods consumed by children. This information is essential to inform our understanding of the structural and interpersonal mechanisms that influence decision-making around food so that future interventions can promote healthy eating habits early in life and ultimately prevent the onset of chronic disease associated with poor dietary practices. Specifically, the following hypotheses will be tested in local and national cohorts:
- Higher stress is associated with poorer eating habits and mealtime behaviors.
- Higher stress is associated with negative parenting, which in turn, is associated with poorer eating habits and mealtime behaviors.
Why did you apply to New Connections
I applied to the New Connections program for several reasons. First, I was so excited to see an opportunity for early-career investigators, particularly for under-represented scholars. As a first generation college student, navigating the world of higher education, and academia in general, can feel daunting and complex at times. New Connections not only provides opportunities for networking and support for people without academic experience but also provides supports for skill building and professional development, so I can continue to refine my plan of research to help connect underserved populations to the health resources they need to thrive.
Brittany Schuler is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan’s Vivian A. and James L. Curtis School of Social Work Research and Training Center. Dr. Schuler’s research interests focus on understanding and reducing health disparities in childhood, specifically promoting health for the prevention of obesity and chronic disease. Her research aims to understand the complex system interactions that influence health disparities across the socioeconomic spectrum, particularly in the areas of pediatric obesity, chronic illness, maternal and child health, the intersection of health and child welfare, food and nutrition policy, and the role of social work in developing interventions and treatment plans to reduce health disparities.
Dr. Schuler earned her PhD in Social Work from The University of Maryland, Baltimore. Her dissertation title was “Toddler Overweight Prevention” Developing a Model by Socioeconomic Gradients.” Her current research examines the mechanisms of parental and household stress and their linkage to dietary quality and meal time health behaviors. Her study aims to inform our understanding of the structural and interpersonal mechanisms that influence decision-making around food, so that future interventions can be developed to promote healthy eating habits early in life, and ultimately prevent the onset of chronic disease associated with poor dietary practices.
Schuler, B. R. & O’Reilly, N. (2017). Child development and the community environment: Understanding overweight across the income gradient. Childhood Obesity. Advance Online Publication. doi: 10.1089/chi.2017.0025
Schuler, B. R., Lee, B.R., Kolivoski, K. M. Attman, N. P., & Lindsey, M. A. (2016). Implementing a modular research-supported treatment in child welfare: Effects and obstacles. Research on Social Work Practice, 26(6), 693-703. doi: 1049731514563988
Bessaha, M. L., Schuler, B. R., & Moon, C. (2016). Social workers’ perceptions of training preparedness and social justice norms on workplace empowerment. Journal of Social Service Research. 10.1080/01488376.2016.1226228
Schuler, B. R. (2015). Health perceptions and quality of life among low-income adults. Health & Social Work. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1093/hsw/hlv045
Schuler, B. R., & DeForge, B. R. (2015). The 12-item Short Form Health Survey: A confirmatory factor analysis in an urban African American sample. Health & Social Work. doi: 10.1093/hsw/hlv058
Schuler, B. R., Bessaha, M. L., & Moon, C. (2015). Addressing Secondary Traumatic Stress in the human services: A comparison of public and private sectors. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance. Advance online publication. doi. 10.1080/23303131.2015.1124060
- New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
- Award Year: 2018
- RWJF Team/Portfolio: Creating Healthier, More Equitable Communities
- Project Name: Healthy Eating, Healthy Children: Understanding Mechanisms of Stress, Parenting, and Healthy Eating Habits