Graduating Doctoral Student, Melissa Vilaro

Published: April 21st, 2014

Category: Student News

MelissaMelissa Vilaro, doctoral student in the Department of Behavioral Science and Community Health, recently accepted a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at UF.

She will be working under Dr. Anne Mathews to coordinate a multi-institution study funded through the US Department of Agriculture. The project, Get Fruved, is a peer-led, train-the-trainer social marketing intervention to increase fruit and vegetable intake and prevent childhood obesity. The project will use a community based participatory research (CBPR) approach along with social-marketing techniques, online media, and environmental change techniques to promote health behaviors among college and high school students.

Her PhD advisor, Dr. Barnett, expressed her excitement for Vilaro.

“I’m thrilled about this opportunity for Melissa – to continue to strengthen her research skills on this USDA funded project is great experience for her. She also brings tremendous skills to the team and I think they will find her contributions quite valuable as well. This position also opens up the potential for future collaborations for faculty and other students between the two departments.”

Vilaro has been conducting nutrition-related research throughout her graduate studies and recently defended her dissertation work in which she assessed determinants of diet among southern rural women. Specifically, she explored how factors such as personal identity, social relationships, and physical food environments influence food choice. Viaro says she would like to build upon her dissertation work to further explore food selection among populations who experience disparities in diet quality and weight status so that interventions can be tailored to these populations to impact change.

Her findings demonstrated that women reported different influences for food choice, and this variability differed by income. For example, women with household incomes below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) tended to identify themselves as being “unhealthy eaters” and also described experiencing overt pressure from family regarding their food selection. In addition, lower-income women described a range of different priorities that influenced the food they bought and ate, including “taste” and “convenience”, while women above 185% of the FPL most frequently cited “health” as the main factor influencing food selection.

Vilaro has been a doctoral student in the Department of Behavioral Science and Community Health (BSCH) for nearly five years. She commented,

“The process of becoming a PhD is both long and short, depending on how you look at it! It took me five (long) years to become an independent researcher and learn how to create knowledge, rather than simply consume, interpret, and explain knowledge created by other academicians and researchers. This part is long because there are so many things to learn along the way. However, looking at the skills I’ve fostered; patience, flexibility, and open-mindedness seem like pretty good progress and personal growth in just five (short) years.”

The BSCH Department is excited for Vilaro as she embarks on the next phase of her journey!