NITC dissertation fellow Gail Meakins will research healthy communities

Gail Meakins

The 2013 NITC dissertation fellowships have been awarded, and Gail Meakins, of the University of Utah, has been selected for a $7,500 NITC fellowship to support her dissertation research.

Meakins's Ph.D. program of study combines her two fields of interest by studying the connection between the built environment and public health.

A former athletic director, Meakins made a major career change in 2008 to go back to school and study Urban Planning.

"My lifelong passion for, and interest in, physical activity and sport began at a very early age," she said. Always a competitive swimmer and runner, she became intrigued with city design over time.

After earning her Bachelor's and Master's of Arts in Physical Education from the University of California, Berkeley in the mid-1970's, Meakins worked for over 20 years in physical education and health at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level.

"Throughout the years I have had the opportunity to travel extensively, and developed a strong interest in both urban design and architecture," Meakins said. In the course of her travels, she couldn't help but notice wide differences between neighborhoods, in terms of the availability of active travel modes.

Her research focuses on the relationship between where we live and the level of physical health we enjoy. 

In her dissertation, "Relating Change in Body Mass Index to Changes in Neighborhood Environments for Relocating Youth," she hypothesizes that BMI will be higher in residents who live in locations with higher levels of "sprawl," and lower in residents who live in higher density, transit and pedestrian accessible neighborhoods.

Just how important neighborhood infrastructure is, and the impact it can have on residents' health, is something Meakins hopes to demonstrate in her research.

Meakins earned her Master's in Urban Planning from the University of Utah in 2008, where she won an Outstanding Graduate Student Award, and is currently working toward a doctorate in Planning, Policy, and Design.

Her research will involve a longitudinal analysis of the changes in the built environment and changes in BMI for young adults moving from one neighborhood to another.

Meakins is an avid runner and also enjoys hiking, biking, and swimming. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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