Jamie Bell, encouraging healthy habits

Megan Morr

Come fall, some local students may learn that sometimes you win by losing—losing bad habits, that is. Jamie Bell, a Durham native and rising senior, spent the better part of her free time in the past academic year developing an obesity-prevention education program for local children that she hopes to implement soon.

The plan will teach students at Durham Performance Learning Center, an alternative high school, about nutrition, hydration, interpreting food labels, and building exercise into daily routines.

Weekly education sessions taught by Bell and students chosen as peer educators, as well as opportunities to measure body fat percentages and obtain nutritional analyses, will help students incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into their lives.

"The project focuses on teaching students easy ways to understand and maintain their personal health," Bell says. She adds that she hopes to motivate students by having them take major roles in designing the curriculum.

For her work on this and other projects, Bell, a biomedical engineering major with an eye on medical school, was awarded the 2007-08 Lars Lyon Service Award by Duke's Community Service Center. The award recognizes a student who exhibits a strong commitment to community-service work.

Bell's interest in public health started in high school when she competed as a Young Epidemiology Scholar. One of fifty finalists nationwide, she was invited to present her project, "Freshman Nutrition and Exercise Study," to public-health luminaries in Washington. She placed third in the competition and brought home a $20,000 scholarship.

In the spring of her freshman year, Bell began work with the Duke Community Health Learning Together Program. It's been a good fit both for student and program. Bell has conducted surveys and collected and analyzed data, and she has led health-education sessions and spearheaded a health fair at local elementary schools.

Some of Bell's most valuable projects have targeted childhood obesity. In addition to developing the proposed program at the Durham Performance Learning Center, Bell was a member of the care management team at the Duke Outpatient Clinic Weight Loss Program and created nutrition and exercise brochures for the Duke Health Clinic at Southern High School in Durham.

She says the variety of projects exposed her to people who had not had the same opportunities she had. "You have to understand about so many other cultures to be a good doctor."

Bell has made her mark as well through two years of undergraduate research at the Pratt School of Engineering. She's recently received a Pratt Research Fellowship for a project studying the electrophysiologic mechanisms that underlie cardiac arrhythmias, work that she's doing in collaboration with Pratt biomedical engineering professor and pediatric cardiologist Salim Idriss B.S.E. '88, Ph.D. '95, M.D. '96.

In addition, Bell has made presentations at professional conferences and, as part of a research team, has had her work published in professional journals. She has participated in summer programs at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Bell says the Lars Lyon Award is particularly meaningful for her because it may encourage other students to seek out volunteer work they have a passion for, rather than something that will boost their credentials.

"If you care about the topic, what you are doing and share it with others, that will mean a whole lot more than just doing some random service work for your résumé. I was lucky to find something I really enjoy doing."

—Oates is a freelance writer based in Chapel Hill.

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