Health psychology doctoral student wins NIH funding to research maternal health

Eating a variety of nutritious foods helps pregnant women and their babies stay healthy. Yet, most health care providers focus on weight, weight gain or birth complications, which paints an incomplete picture of women’s health and well-being during pregnancy and postpartum. In fact, complex and interacting influences — stress, motivation, advice, appetite, hormones and the like — can drive food choices.

UNC Charlotte health psychology doctoral student Jan Mooney is expanding her research in maternal health, with support from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Intramural Research Training Award. The fellowship from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) will allow Mooney to work closely with NIH scientists.

Jan Mooney with her dog, Cora“I would like to contribute to the field of maternal health and well-being by advancing our understanding of influences on maternal appetite during pregnancy and postpartum,” Mooney said. “My hope is that I will also have the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from other groups and disciplines to learn more about the different perspectives that can be useful when formulating questions about maternal health and well-being.”

The NICHD is one of 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health and leads research and training to understand human development, improve reproductive health, enhance the lives of children and adolescents, and optimize abilities for all.

With her prized fellowship, Mooney will enhance her ability to use advanced statistical techniques, particularly to analyze longitudinal data, building on what she has learned in UNC Charlotte courses. She also hopes to improve her scientific writing and communication skills and to polish her dissertation.

“The fellowship will help to prepare me for a career in interdisciplinary research that involves both independent data collection as well as the use of existing data to answer a diverse set of questions,” she said. “In the future, I would like to work in an academic medical center setting in both research and direct clinical service contexts, with as much integration as possible between these. One avenue for this might involve intervention development and evaluation to improve well-being through approaches that consider the body as a resource and source of information.”

This focus could include work with individuals who are exposed to risk and harm as the result of oppressive and discriminatory structures, such as people who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color, or people who are pregnant/postpartum, gender and/or sexually diverse.

Jennifer Webb, who is Mooney’s primary mentor at UNC Charlotte, and Virginia Gil-Rivas, director of UNC Charlotte’s Health Psychology Ph.D. program, encouraged Mooney to seek the fellowship.

“I would not be where I am today without the support, guidance and patience of Dr. Webb, who helped me improve my candidacy for graduate school, welcomed me into the world of maternal well-being, read over many, many unfunded proposals and unselected applications of mine and continues to challenge me to keep growing on a regular basis,” Mooney said.

Webb, an associate professor in the Department of Psychological Science, said “She (Mooney) is such a sophisticated learner who is constantly inspiring me to continue to learn and grow as a mentor and instructor. Jan embodies a wealth of grit and perseverance.”

About the Doctoral Program in Health Psychology

The Doctoral Program in Health Psychology at UNC Charlotte offers training in the concentration areas of clinical, community, and general. The clinical health psychology program has received re-accreditation until 2027 by the American Psychological Association. The Clinical Health Psychology program was ranked second among North Carolina’s public universities with included programs in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 rankings and in the top 38 percent of the 231 clinical psychology programs considered in the Best Health Schools rankings.

Read the entire story on CLAS Exchange.

Photo, inset, Jan Mooney with her dog, Cora. Mooney enjoys listening to podcasts and reading scary stories.