Past Director’s Letters

Fall 2019

Imagine a world where girls, boys, and children of all genders believe in themselves. A world where they are willing to speak up to share their ideas, speak out when they see something unfair, and step in to make positive change in their communities and lives.

This is the world we want all children to be able to take for granted someday. But far too many learn that they are not good enough, that their bodies are shameful. How can children reach their full potential when the deck is stacked against them?

With your help and my help. With help from STRIPED and many dedicated public health, mental health, adolescent medicine professionals and so many others. But not just in our roles as scholars or clinicians. In the words of my friend and colleague Jessica Henderson Daniel, Immediate Past President of the American Psychological Association, we must become “citizen psychologists” — or more broadly for public health, “citizen scientists” and “citizen clinicians.”

Jessica implores and inspires her fellow psychologists to engage in the world: “Almost every aspect of human existence is impacted by psychological science, education, and practice….And almost every social policy can be informed by it.” She calls on her fellow psychologists to step out of the university or clinic to ensure they are in the room and at the table when decisions are being made about communities and their health. Jessica’s wise words resonate just as well for STRIPED.

Our mission — to create a world where girls, boys, and children of all genders can grow up at home in their own bodies — inspires us to put a premium on impact in everything we do:

  • On p. 2, read about our latest Delphi study to source solutions to the ongoing problem of weight stigma in public health, and learn about our national webinar on eating disorders early detection, headlined by none other than U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
  • On p. 4, catch the latest on our trio of policy translation initiatives, each informed and shaped by our scientific and legal research targeting high-potential leverage points to remove and reduce toxic environmental influences on eating disorders.

Imagining a better world is a good start. But now as citizen scientists, let’s make that world a reality.

-Bryn Austin, ScD

Fall 2018

More than a few times, my wife, Liz, has asked me, “Wouldn’t you rather read a novel sometime?” I do of course read novels, sometimes, but what she sees me reading 90% of the time is nonfiction, especially books on policy, social movements, and leadership — the wonkier the better. So when STRIPED Fellow Rebecca Hutcheson  introduced me to the work of Emerson and Nabatchi, leaders in the field of collaborative governance, I was enthralled.

They use the term collaborative governance to describe when people from across sectors (i.e., government, non-profit, business) come together to “engage in cooperative activities to enhance the capacity…to achieve a common purpose.”

A bit abstract? Here’s a good example: In the early 2000s, advocates, scientists, business leaders, and state policymakers in the U.S. Northeast were concerned about climate change but realized they couldn’t keep waiting for the feds to take action. No one sector caused climate change, and no one sector would solve it. What was needed was collaborative action led by cross-sector stakeholders on local and regional levels.

The result? The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which led to massive reductions in carbon emissions and improved pollution control, all without impeding economic growth in the participating states.

By now you might be wondering, what’s the environment and pollution got to do with eating disorders prevention? It’s simple: Just like greenhouse gases and carbon emissions in our physical environment, pollutants in our social environment are caused by forces across all sectors societal norms promoting distorted beauty and thinness ideals, commercial industries that profit from these destructive ideals, weak civil rights laws that don’t prevent weight discrimination, and lax regulations that allow snake oil diet pills.

Like the RGGI environmentalists recognized with climate change, no one sector is going to solve the problem of our toxic social environment either. What can we do? That’s simple too: We can sit down together across sec-tors and start taking action — collaborative action. With STRIPED, we intend to do everything we can to make this happen. From our cross-sector convening in April 2018 to our cadre of visiting scholars, all hailing from different disciplines and sectors we are in it for the long haul.

As for those novels? Maybe next year.

-Bryn Austin, ScD

Fall 2017

Right from the start with STRIPED, we’ve had our eye on ways to accelerate progress in eating disorders prevention. The prevention field has been around for more or less 30 years and has made lots of inspired discoveries in that time. But we’ve been advancing at what could be fairly called a snail’s pace. The reasons are myriad and most definitely do not include a lack of hard work or dedication from a lot of smart people.

So what’s been missing? Strategic science. Rather than pursue new studies or training initiatives simply to fill a gap, any gap, in knowledge, the overriding goal of strategic science is to fill gaps that will directly inform policy action. Why? To spur change on a large scale—for a whole city or state or maybe even the whole country.

Granted, this may sound a bit over-ambitious, but this is truly what evidence-informed, policy translation efforts can achieve when based on strategic science. And now more than ever, this is the hallmark of all that STRIPED aims to do. For instance,

  • Our policy translation portfolio now includes three primary tracks designed to catalyze policy changes in the dieting and fashion industries and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (aka, the CDC), the nation’s premiere federal agency responsible for monitoring the health of Americans.
  • Our ever-expanding library of teaching cases offers educators engaging ways to bring state-of-the-art training in the techniques of strategic science and policy translation into their classrooms. Through our teaching cases, learners gain the essential skills they will need to apply the techniques in their public health work out in the field.

Want to be part of the STRIPED action too? Join us on April 30, 2018, for our first university-wide, all-day symposium on primary and secondary prevention of eating disorders. Together with Harvard Catalyst, we will convene researchers, advocates, policy makers, and thought leaders to identify strategic research gaps and spark innovative transdisciplinary and multisectoral partnerships to advance eating disorders prevention.

I hope to see you all there!

With gratitude,

-Bryn Austin, ScD

Fall 2016

I’m often asked to explain STRIPED in just a few words. Here’s what I usually say:We are a training program for public health and adolescent health professionals. And we are an incubator of both people – students, postdocs, and junior faculty – and ideas – especially those that crosscut disciplines and fields in dynamic ways to bring novel approaches to eating disorders prevention.

This is accurate, absolutely, but it doesn’t quite do us justice. What would I say if I had time for more than the proverbial elevator speech?

  • We are deeply mission driven:
    We strive to create a world where girls, boys, and — in an increasingly diverse society — young people of all genders can grow up at home in their own bodies.
  • We are doggedly strategic:
    Our mission statement is first and foremost about making change. But creating a better world requires strategy, and lots of it. We’ve got that in spades.

In the sage words of leading public health law scholar Michelle Mello, “Many innovators…have promising ideas, but there need to be pathways along which these ideas can reach important opinion leaders… and move out across networks.” STRIPED’s policy translation program has great examples of exactly what Mello calls for. Here are just a few:

  • Recognizing how vital economic evidence is for policymakers, we launched a comprehensive comparative cost-effectiveness study of innovative approaches to eating disorders prevention.
  • But knowing that just producing data is not enough, we are working together with policymakers and other gatekeepers to take on the fashion industry with its harmful standards of thinness and beauty and the diet pill and weight-loss dietary supplements industries, which sell their too-often-dangerous products in every corner store.

Whether focused on city governments or multinational corporations, STRIPED’s policy translation strategy takes promising ideas along crucial pathways to opinion leaders who hold the power to change the eating disorders risk landscape.

And with this, we have an explanation that does STRIPED justice.

-S. Bryn Austin, ScD

Fall 2015

Of late, I’ve found myself intrigued by social entrepreneurs. How are their strategies for the business world similar to the ideas and perspectives of public health that STRIPED draws from? Initially, it seemed to me, we have nothing in common in terms of the focus on consumer markets, which is the sine qua non of social entrepreneurial endeavors. Still, I wanted to learn more, so I picked up Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World by Beverly Schwartz and was more than a little surprised by just how much we share. Schwartz writes that social entrepreneurs:

  • “Confront difficult issues and actively pursue a more just, secure, and sustainable world”;
  • “Strive to create an “action accelerator for an alternative future”;
  • “Must understand and often alter the social system that creates and sustains the problems in the first place…. Looking upstream toward solving the root cause of a problem is far more sustainable than looking downstream and trying to put a patch on an outcome.”

All of these qualities could just as easily describe STRIPED. And the funny thing is that the more we look upstream for solutions, the more we find ourselves face to face with the same consumer markets that social entrepreneurs have set their sights on. For us, these include the markets for diet pills, laxatives, supplements, cosmetic surgery, “fitness,” fashion, media, and many more. Our quest for upstream targets has inspired many interwoven STRIPED projects:

  • Our legal research study on what states must do to better protect youth from weight-loss and musclebuilding dietary supplements led directly to our new bill in Massachusetts’ State Legislature (p. 3)
  • Our recent practicum on motivating corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the supplements industry was the basis for our new teaching case on CSR skills that every public health student needs (p. 4)
  • Our recent legal study uncovering ways that U.S. occupational health laws could and should be applied to the fashion industry inspired our planned policy evaluation of a new French law to protect the health and safety of fashion models (p. 2)

So the truth is STRIPED does aim for major overhaul of the consumer world, even if we are not selling products like many social entrepreneurs. But our most profound common goal? A more just, secure, and sustainable world.

-S. Bryn Austin, ScD

Fall 2014

Greetings and welcome to the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders. Approaching the five-year mark since we first unveiled our training mission, we are grateful for an abundance of riches. We are abundant with mentors and trainees, with nine mentors with diverse expertise and over 20 trainees and more coming on soon with new projects. Abundant in publications on our study findings written by or with our many talented trainees, with dozens now published or in press. Abundant with the support of our funders, including grants from foundations, the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and, most importantly, passionate and generous individuals as committed to the cause as we are. And abundant with a number of visiting scholars — both well-known luminaries and emerging leaders in the field — who made the trek to Boston to share their work and learn from our new scientific insights and innovative strategies for training and advocacy.

We are always abundant in projects, all designed to give trainees opportunities to develop new skills and expertise with the guidance of STRIPED faculty and collaborating mentors. We are especially excited about a few of our recently completed projects that are charting new terrain in the field:

And here are some of our new projects underway:

  • A legal study of supplements abused for weight control and muscle building, led by STRIPED Affiliated Faculty in Health Law Jennifer Pomeranz working closely with STRIPED trainee Grant Barbosa.
  • An economic study of the costs of eating disorders to individuals, families, and society led by STRIPED Collaborating Mentor Mihail Samnaliev alongside trainee LeAnn Hyungi Noh.
  • Several new teaching cases in the works this year, following on the heels of our second teaching case, “‘Retweet Does Not Imply Endorsement’: The Logic of Cyberbullying in Schools.”

But as important as these projects are and as proud as we are of our trainees’ accomplishments, the recent passing of one of our global community’s greatest leaders and justice advocates, Nelson Mandela, reminds us that it is not a list of achievements that matters most. It is what we do to improve the lives of others and to make our world more just. In the many inspiring tributes to Mandela that I read after his passing, it was one quote that took me by surprise in how deeply it resonated with our STRIPED mission: To create a society where girls and boys alike can grow up at home in their own bodies.

An article in the Boston Globe reported: “Asked once why he favored loosely cut shirts with colorful patterns (they became his sartorial trademark), Mr. Mandela replied, ‘You must remember I was in jail for 27 years. I want to feel freedom.’” What struck me about this quote is that with all the profound issues of society that Mandela confronted every day of his life, he also recognized the profundity of simply feeling free in one’s own body. The Madiba shirts he was known for represented in the very least freedom from the physical constriction of a suit, buttoned dress shirt, and tie.

It likely was also an expression of freedom from the constraint of Western-style dress in the post-apartheid South African context. But maybe Mandela’s words can also speak to us about the right to feel free from the discrimination, stigma, and inequities that imprison — literally and figuratively — so many types of bodies: Black bodies and all bodies of color, large bodies, women’s bodies, gay bodies. Much of what we do in STRIPED is motivated by the desire to end the injustices of weight discrimination and the perverse equation of beauty with worth in our society that can be so damaging especially in the lives of girls and women. In STRIPED, we too work so that all bodies can someday feel free.

-S. Bryn Austin, ScD

Spring 2013

Greetings and welcome to the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders. It seems like yesterday when we launched STRIPED, fueled by hope, hard work, and the generous support of Ellen Feldberg Gordon to pursue our goal of jump starting graduate-level public health training in eating disorders prevention. It was exciting to see but, in the early days, still too untested to know if we could succeed. Now flash forward as we near the four-year mark: We are not just succeeding, we are thriving.

This year alone, we added four outstanding scholars to our team:

  • Faculty Jerel Calzo, PhD: Specializes in male eating disorders, masculinity norms, and sexual orientation health disparities.
  • Affiliated Faculty in Health Law Jennifer Pomeranz, JD, MPH: National leader in legal strategies to solve public health problems.
  • Visiting Scholar Christina Roberto, PhD: Focuses on novel policy approaches to health promotion.
  • Collaborating Mentor Davene Wright, PhD: Expert in economic and decision analysis methods for health promotion planning.

A sign of STRIPED’s growth and broadening appeal, this year we are enjoying an uptick in students from around the globe, including South Korea, China, and Chile. Also, with 10 trainees, we now have more on board than ever before, and this spring we are celebrating our second doctoral graduate.

So what’s our appeal? If I had to point to one thing, I’d say it’s our inquiry-centered training model. We don’t teach through traditional, expert-down instruction. With STRIPED — in the words of pioneering educator Donald Finkel — “It is the inquiry that teaches,” inspiring us in our common quest. Everything we do is organized first around one question: “How can we create a society where girls and boys alike can grow up at home in their own bodies?” From this flow all our follow-up questions, the ones that shape and give meaning to each of our many projects. Shared inquiry is at the heart of our STRIPED community.

-S. Bryn Austin, ScD

Fall 2011

Greetings and welcome to the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders. Three years since we took our first tentative steps, we now have our feet firmly on the ground. If you are new to STRIPED or a returning reader, spending a few minutes looking through our website should give you a good a sense of what we’ve been up to lately. Our mission statement should give you a sense of why we are so committed to preventing eating disorders and problems with food, weight, and appearance and to achieving equity for all girls and boys in our society.

Another crucial aspect of STRIPED is our philosophy about learning and education. After all, our raison d’être is transdisciplinary, transformative training – training our nation’s future leaders in public health and adolescent medicine also to be national leaders in public health approaches to eating disorders prevention. My own philosophy of teaching and mentoring has been deeply influenced by the work of Dr. Ellen Langer, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. In her book The Power of Mindful Learning, Dr. Langer exhorts us to find ways to step off the rails of routinized trains of thought, to question what we “know” so that we can bring new perspectives and solutions to conditions we have reflexively assumed to be inevitable. She writes:

“How can we know if we do not ask? Why should we ask if we are certain we know? All answers come  out of the question. If we pay attention to our questions, we increase the power of mindful learning…. When we are mindful, we recognize that the way in which we tend to construct our world is only one construction among many. We might consider reconstructing this world….”

With STRIPED, we don’t know all the answers as how to prevent eating disorders and problems with food, weight and appearance. We don’t profess to. What we do know is how to think about what we know and what we need to know to. How to ask questions that will make a difference.

-S. Bryn Austin, ScD