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EP07 Adefunke Ajenikoko, Ellen Gstalder Memorial Scholarship Winner
Deborah Onakomaiya: Hey guys, and welcome to another episode of I AM GPH. I am your host Deborah Onakomaiya. In this episode we'll be talking to Adefunke Ajenikoko. She's the recent Gstalder scholarship award winner. Adefunke is a second year MPH student in the nutrition tract here at NYU. Currently she works as a study coordinator and a lead health coach at NYU Langone. She also works on the TADA study with Dr. Niyati Parekh. Ultimately Adefunke is interested in program development and implementation, which focuses on nutritional programs that affects mothers and children. In her free time, she loves to read novels around New York City. Now let's go to our conversation with Adefunke. Thank you so much Adefunke for joining us on our show today. Thanks for coming on our podcast. It's awesome to have you here. Congratulations on winning the Gstalder award, the Gstalder scholarship. How did you feel when you were told you won? You know, what was going through your head?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: I was actually really surprised that I was chosen. I didn't think I was going to win, but it felt really great to have my accomplishments recognized.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Wow. I mean that's extremely important. And for our listeners, what exactly is the Gstalder scholarship about?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: So the Gstalder award is a scholarship award for Master of Public Health students who are in the public health nutrition concentration. So every year this award is in memory of Ellen Gstalder who had been accepted into our program. But sadly she lost her battle with leukemia in spring 2004 so this award goes to a current MPH student who conducts research or provide some form of educational outreach about nutrition and health to vulnerable populations. And it's like specific to New York City.
Deborah Onakomaiya: You mentioned that from the Gstalder scholarship. It has to be with people involved in nutrition education and nutrition research. So like, what research are you currently doing or what nutrition educational programs are you running now?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: So I'm the lead health coach and study coordinator on the Goals for Eating and Moving Study. So this is being led by Dr. Melanie Jay, who is an attending at the Manhattan VA and an assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine. So about 35% of adults in the United States are obese, which we know increases the risk of like co-morbidities such as like diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia. But there are very few primary care based weight management interventions for this population. And we know that modest weight loss kind of improves, helps and prevents chronic disease. But a lot of healthcare teams fail to counsel their patients on like nutrition education and lifestyle change. And it is often due to less time, they just have to get through their patients or they don't have the proper education. So basically we created this study, which is an NIH RO1 funded grant. It's a customer randomized trial of a technology assistant weight management intervention. So basically we're promoting weight loss through counseling at an increased engagement in lifestyle programs. So we're trying to see if incorporating health education and behavior change into primary care increases weight loss in patients.
Deborah Onakomaiya: And that's interesting. And what does that look like? So I come into the hospital, what am I coming in for or what am, what am I being counseled for, that type of thing.
Adefunke Ajenikoko: So basically we pull patients from the electronic medical records and we find patients who have a BMI over 30 and we contact them. And also we look at people who have a BMI over 25 but they have to have comorbidities. So like sleep apnea, they have to have hypertension, something like that going on with them. And we contact them and we let them know that we're like a weight management study and that we want them to come in. And when they come in we take their height, their weight, their blood pressure, and measure their waist circumference. And after they do a short survey with us, they get introduced to the health coach. So the health coach is the person who gives them the health education. So basically we sit with them and we kind of help them set goals using motivational interviewing and over the course of the year through phone calls, we counsel them and we see if those sessions enabled them to lose weight. And at the same time as a health coach, I'm in constant contact with the physician, so I'm sending them the notes that I get from our interactions with the patient and whenever the doctor sees the patient, he'll mention it. He'll be like, "Oh I, I see that you lost this much weight" or "You made this goal. How's everything going?" Just keeping in touch.
Deborah Onakomaiya: And the physicians come in, where after you pass those notes in terms of, counseling them or all the counseling is only coming from the health coach.
Adefunke Ajenikoko: Yeah, the counseling comes from the health coach. The job for the physician is to reaffirm everything that we're saying, telling the patient basically we're happy that you joined the study, how's everything going? Making sure that they're keeping up with their goals. Kind of just making sure that they're staying on track.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Also, I heard that you're a researcher assistant with Dr. Parekh. You know, what study are you guys working on?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: So I'm a research assistant on their TADA kids study. So this is a pilot study, which the objective is to test and modify a web based bio screen food frequency questionnaire. So the food frequency questionnaires is just basically kind of seeing how often you eat certain things over the last three months. And right now it's only validated for use in adults and we're trying to see if we can make it available for children. Can we edit it and make something for children? Cause right now there is no tool that we can use that is validated for elementary and middle school kids.
Deborah Onakomaiya: And why is that your target population? Specifically elementary and middle school kids?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: Because that is the time where your diet really matters. So if we can get this food frequency questionnaire out there and have this be usable in elementary school, we can kind of see what is their diet made up of and we can use that data to kind of like create new research projects honestly and change behavior in kids.
Deborah Onakomaiya: That's extremely interesting. And for an MPH student, that's quite exciting. How are you able to land these exciting research opportunities with NYU Langone and here at GPH, what skills or resources have you leveraged that gets your foot in the doors with these opportunities?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: Honestly, I, when I came to New York City, I didn't have any research experience and I really wanted to get some, so I emailed a bunch of professors who I knew who were in research, doing research and I found their studies and I thought they were interesting and just kind of let them know what my background was and let them know I was interested in it. With Dr. Jay the one at NYU Langone, I emailed her September of last year and she brought me in for an interview and we hit it off. So I started off as her intern on her pilot study for the study I'm working on now. She got these grants while I was here and it just kind of turned into a full time employment and the same thing with Dr. Deierlein and Dr. Parekh, I'm a public health nutrition student. I've been in some of their classes and they kind of mentioned that they have this study going on and I told them I was interested and that's how I got into that.
Deborah Onakomaiya: That's very interesting and I mean why nutrition? You know, why, why not another, you know, public health field. What about it interests you, why is this your passion?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: I feel like the thing about nutrition that most people don't realize is that it affects every aspect of our life. Your diet affects how you feel physically, mentally. It affects the severity of the symptoms that you have when you're ill. It affects how susceptible you are to getting a disease. So I think that's kind of where my interests lie, but we kind of downplay right now how nutrition can affect your entire life and I kind of want to bring that to light and kind of see what changes I can make in public health.
Deborah Onakomaiya: That's awesome. And in addition to your awesome scholarship that you won in all your research experience over winter break, I heard you're completing a study abroad session in Nepal. What is that about? If you can give us a little bit of a background and how might that be related to nutrition?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: So I'll be taking the Behavioral Communication Strategies for Global Epidemics course in Nepal. So this course is run in partnership with UNICEF. So we're going to be working with a number of UNICEF professional staff from countries in South and East Asia, which is really cool. The course focuses on integrating free public health discipline for emergency action. So like epidemiology, behavioral health and intervention research is kind of what I'm really doing right now in my research positions. And then the last one is communication. So we're going to be provided with a knowledge base and foundation for skills to design and implement strategies for disease prevention and response and outbreak situations. I felt like the course itself is not technically a public health nutrition course, but as I said before, nutrition plays a role in everything. So it's most likely going to come up a couple of times throughout the course.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah, that's very important. Just to wrap up, if in five years I, we had you back on our show, where is Adefunke going to be?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: That is a very good question. I'm not really sure of the answer, I can't. I know what I want to do. I want to be working in program development, implementation, evaluation, where, what that looks like, what agency, I cannot tell you, but that's where I'll be working.
Deborah Onakomaiya: And this is always going to be around nutrition or it could be around anything?
Adefunke Ajenikoko: It's most definitely always going to be around nutrition. I cannot see at any point in my life me not working in nutrition. It will always be like the center of my career, my life actually.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Wow. And finally, final question. What classes have really helped you in these positions that you found yourself, especially in research, especially at NYU. What classes have been the most helpful for you .
Adefunke Ajenikoko: In terms of like my position at NYU? Probably most like program planning and evaluation because I came in as a lead health coach and kind of morphed into a study coordinator because I've been kind of helping build the study up from ground up for the last six or so months. So that course definitely has helped me out a lot.
Deborah Onakomaiya: That's really impressive. Thank you so much for being on our show. It was wonderful to have you on.
Adefunke Ajenikoko: Thank you for having me.