Faculty Spotlight - Andrew Jones

Andrew Jones, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. He is a public health nutritionist interested in understanding how food environments influence the nutritional status of women and children in low-income countries.

A  participant in one of Professor Jones

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A participant in one of Professor Jones' field surveys from his graduate fieldwork in the highlands of central Bolivia.

What has been your career path in global health up until now?

My first experiences globally were not in public health. I studied abroad in South Africa as an undergraduate, which set the stage for my understanding of poverty and development. I also served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan for two years after college, teaching environmental science, geography, and English as a second language. I had studied both physical geography and film production in college, and had made documentaries focused on the human-environment interface.  So I’ve always been interested in human-environment interactions.

My specific interest in global health came about when I returned from the Peace Corps and started considering where to go next. After researching different potential career paths, I kept coming back to nutrition as a foundational discipline for human development. It’s difficult to make strides in social or economic development without a solid foundation of well-nourished, healthy individuals in a population.  I ended up joining the Program in International Nutrition at Cornell University. While I was a graduate student there, I also had the opportunity to engage with their Global Health Program.

What research projects are you currently undertaking?

As a new faculty member, I’m actively submitting proposals for extramural funding. I’m especially interested in the double burden of malnutrition that’s increasingly impacting low- and middle-income countries - that is, the coexistence of undernutrition and associated conditions like anemia, and overweight/obesity.  Some of my grants so far have been focused on understanding the determinants, consequences and mechanisms of action of this double burden in pregnant mothers who may be concurrently overweight and suffering from iron deficiency, which is the most prevalent micronutrient deficiency worldwide. I’m also interested in how this double burden manifests at neighborhood and regional levels.

One project I’m working on related to this is looking at nationally-representative datasets from a number of countries in sub-Saharan African to characterize varying aspects of the double burden of malnutrition and to understand its spatial determinants and associations with food environments and livelihoods.  I‘m also interested in food environments in rural areas, especially where agriculture is the predominant livelihood.  Students and I are working with national-level data from several countries in Africa to understand the relationship between farming diversity  - that is, the diversity of agricultural production systems -  and the adequacy and diversity of household diets.

What advice do you have for students who’d like to get involved in global public health work or research?

It’s important to get some kind of experience in low-income settings. It’s very important to get a sense of the health disparities that exist and the social and environmental contexts in which they play out. This could be through traveling to other countries, or getting experience working with a non-profit organization, government agency, or research organization to examine problems affecting low-income communities and engaging with communities to come up with potential solutions and learn about barriers to reaching those solutions. More than anything, it’s about being able to confront these issues face-to-face – it’s difficult to really understand the issues if you’re only engaging with the theory and not engaging with the communities themselves.

Experience in low-income settings also doesn’t necessarily have to be in developing countries – it could be in low-income communities here in the United States. Global health is about more than borders – it’s about equity and social justice.

It’s also about viewing problems through a trans-disciplinary lens. So while I would encourage students to deepen their knowledge in a specific discipline and become an expert in their field, it’s also important to be able to speak broadly on a number of topics and interact with other professionals, who may not have the same knowledge base, but are interested in solving and understanding the same kinds of issues. If you can’t speak to people outside of your discipline, it will be difficult to work with them and to solve complex global health issues that require innovative approaches.

Are there opportunities for students to engage in your projects, currently or in the future? What skills would they need, and what could they expect to learn?

I love to work with students interested in research. In fact, we just recently started a research group for students in both SPH and at other schools at the university who are interested in research on food and nutrition in global contexts. The goals of the group are to discuss and analyze current research in the field, to provide a space for students to present their research and current thinking and receive constructive feedback from peers, and to identify research questions that students can pursue collaboratively with faculty and other students during their graduate study. Working with students is my favorite part of being in academics.

Students interested in data analysis could potentially get involved right away with some of my work looking at large national-level data sets. They might also be interested in conducting literature reviews, or contributing writing on some projects. I’m also interested in working with students who have experience using GIS and working with spatial data. I expect there will be increasing opportunities for fieldwork, too, with some of the projects I’m developing.

Learn more about Professor Jones’ work

Written: December 6, 2013