Heather Hamner, PhD, MS, MPH

FDNS Degree and Year:

PhD 2010

Mentor and brief summary of research project while a student at UGA:

Dr. Mary Ann Johnson

While a student in the UGA’s Department of Foods and Nutrition, my area of research focused on identifying differences across population groups, with a specific emphasis on micronutrients like folic acid. I was interested in exploring how acculturation (the concept of integrating into a dominant culture) could impact nutrient intake and status.  My primary research focused on the association of acculturation factors with folate status among two subpopulations of the Hispanic population, Mexican American older adults and Mexican American women of childbearing age.

Current position:

Health Scientist, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

My current job entails:

As a health scientist, my work is centered on ensuring that women have safe and healthy pregnancies. The majority of my work focuses on looking at ways to effectively increase the amount of folic acid women consume before and during early pregnancy to help reduce the risk of a serious birth defect.  My contribution in this area is both domestic and global.  Domestically, I lead the scientific analyses to assess racial/ethnic disparities and identify how current prevention efforts are working; while exploring opportunities to maximize prevention efforts for the most vulnerable populations. Internationally, I work to help promote birth defect prevention in Africa and South East Asia, and I collaborate with the World Health Organization to identify a blood folate concentration that is associated with the lowest risk of having a serious birth defect of the brain and spine.

Recent honors or awards (if applicable):

Nominated for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 Shepard Award for best paper in the Data Methods and Study Design category, Modelling fortification of corn masa flour with folic acid and the potential impact on Mexican American women with lower acculturation (2013)

Nominated by the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities as the Center’s nominee for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2011)

Nominated for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Shepard Award for best paper in the Assessment and Epidemiology category, Predicted contribution of folic acid fortification of corn masa flour to the usual folic acid intake for the US population: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001–2004 (2010)

The primary reason I chose to attend UGA and be a part of FDNS was because:

My advisor, Dr. MaryAnn Johnson, was one of the principle reasons for attending UGA. As a non-traditional student (my doctoral experience occurred during a short leave of absence from my job at CDC), Dr. Johnson was willing to work with me to ensure that I could complete all of the academic requirements and participate in a number of extra-curricular activities to enhance my overall experience. She allowed me the flexibility to move at my own pace while continuing to challenge me academically and stimulate my desire to learn more. UGA’s Department of Foods and Nutrition faculty have excellent reputations and breadth of experience and the program is extremely dedicated to the success of its students I learned a great deal from my advisor and other faculty – and was encouraged to stretch beyond not only obtaining the basic understandings of nutrition but to go further and deeper into a wide range of nutrition related issues. I left UGA with a renewed interest and enthusiasm for the nutrition field – a true testament to the faculty and staff at UGA.