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Cara Pannell

Cleveland, Ohio
Human Nutrition provides me with a clearer understanding of how the human body works, and how the body utilizes food.

What drew you to human nutrition?

At a young age, I saw food insecurity in the communities I’m from. Going into the city there were not a lot of options for fresh foods. My mom is an inner-city school teacher. I noticed the differences in the lunches her students were bringing as opposed to what we would pack for lunch. That lack of nutritional sustainability in certain communities made an impact.

I started in Human Nutrition, and for a while considered Public Health, but eventually came back to Human Nutrition because it was providing me with a clearer understanding of how the human body works, and how the body utilizes food.

How have leadership opportunities played an important part of your Ohio State experience?

Numerous leadership opportunities have shaped me, allowed me to network and learn from others. As a former peer mentor for the Environment and Natural Resources scholars department, I learned effective team building and communication skills. As a site leader on MLK day of service, I improved my organization skills. Now, as the current vice president of The Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, I am continuously building on the skills I have learned at Ohio State as well as developing program planning skills, learning how to start funding programs, and so much more. The Ohio State community has uplifted and supported me in these opportunities allowing me to give back so that others can grow in their purpose.

Which have been the most influential?

My research with faculty has been the most influential experience in my major. Research has shown that school-aged racial and ethnic minority children gain weight at higher proportions compared to their white peers during the summer. I have connected to the childhood obesity health disparity research conducted in this lab on a personal level as a minority. Through my experiences, I have seen behaviors influenced by economics, education and environment that can increase risk of health problems. Dietary interventions can prevent certain illnesses with the right accessibility.

How do you see fighting food insecurity in your future?

I see myself fighting food insecurity in the future through research and intervention. I currently conduct research with Dr. Carolyn Gunther and learned how to use data to influence policy. Research has the ability to inform and highlight problems in communities, however, what you do with your findings is just as important as the discoveries you make. I hope to continue addressing factors that maintain the nutrition gap and eventually change policy or equip communities with the resources to take positive control of their dietary behaviors.

How have your professors in human nutrition impressed you?

They have impressed me with their openness and abilities to connect in-class text to the real world. I believe that because nutrition is a part of everyday life it maybe easier to connect with real world examples than other subject matters. Many of my professors share their personal experiences, such as in human nutrition fundamentals. My professor in this class discussed her food allergies and experiences with her kids and making sure they ate properly.

Human Nutrition student Cara Pannell

How will you spark a nutrition revolution?

My nutrition revolution will change how communities view food and their access to food. As a clinician, through community engagement and research I will create sustainable interventions equipping communities with the tools to generate their own resources for healthy dietary behaviors.

What are your career aspirations?

As a third year at The Ohio State University my understanding of racial minority health disparities has expanded and continues to fuel my passion for medicine. I have developed an understanding of how food is a form of medicine. As an African American woman, I am part of a community that disproportionately suffers from diseases preventable by diet and lifestyle changes. This has inspired me to gain the knowledge and resources necessary to implement effective and sustainable dietary changes.

My end goal is to become a physician practicing general pediatrics and the Nutritional Sciences major equips me with the knowledge about how diet affects health. By obtaining my doctor of medicine I can complement this knowledge base with clinical skills to diagnose and treat those who may be suffering from diseases resulting from dietary behaviors. In addition to classroom experience, real world application is important to understanding the unique dynamics involved in each individual’s path to health, and this program offers it. Research has and continues to allow me to apply my academic knowledge to a community-based setting.

Why should a student choose human nutrition at Ohio State?

If you have a passion for educating others, the knowledge that you gain applies to everyday life. Everyone needs food to live.

If you’re attracted to service, whether you know it or not, anyone with a nutrition degree will serve others in some way, shape or form.

If you just want to be an informed consumer, or more informed and aware of what your body is doing that is allowing you to function throughout your day-to-day activities.