Kathleen Davis, PhD, and Marilyn Massey-Stokes, EdD

Kathleen Davis (left) and Marilyn Massey-Stokes (right) smile in the stairwell of TWU's Ann Stuart Science Complex.
Kathleen Davis, Ph.D. (left) and Marilyn Massey-Stokes, Ed.D. (right)

Texas Woman’s University professors Kathleen Davis, Ph.D. (nutrition and food sciences) and Marilyn Massey-Stokes, Ed.D. (health promotion and kinesiology) recognized a need for new approaches to combat childhood obesity. A current research project may give them the answers – and it may be as simple as picking up a cellphone.

In a year-long study, which is a joint project between TWU and the UNT Health Science Center Pediatric Clinic, Davis and Massey-Stokes are sending a group of low-income parents text messages that promote and encourage healthy infant feeding practices outside of regular medical visits. While there has been a great deal of research using text messaging and other mobile platforms to promote healthy habits, this is the first one to attempt to affect feeding practices in parents of infants, according to the researchers.

Mobile health is becoming more and more popular with everyone having cellphones these days. This is a ripe opportunity to use everyday technology to educate parents. Kathleen Davis, Ph.D.

“Mobile health is becoming more and more popular with everyone having cellphones these days,” said Davis, who earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from TWU. “This is a ripe opportunity to use everyday technology to educate parents.”

Both Davis and Massey-Stokes are passionate about this type of research. Davis is a pediatric dietitian whose past work at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth included helping the tiniest of babies to grow in the NICU and supporting a weight management program geared toward older children. Massey-Stokes’ background is in early childhood health education. Coming together for this project was a perfect fit for them. Massey-Stokes credits Davis’ research abilities as a strong point, while Davis admires Massey-Stokes’ mastery of health behavior theory.

“I’m a dietitian wannabe,” said Massey-Stokes, a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) who came to TWU from Texas Tech. “Being a part of a project that may impact dietary practices in childhood and beyond is exciting.”

Being a part of a project that may impact dietary practices in childhood and beyond is exciting. Marilyn Massey-Stokes, Ed.D.

At the end of this pilot project, the TWU researchers plan to use the data for an expanded trial that targets parents of children from birth to age 5 with text messages about healthier feeding practices. They will have a lot of help along the way as they have involved nutrition undergraduate and graduate students in every step of the research.

“TWU has a close-knit university community that fosters collaboration and a pioneer spirit,” Massey-Stokes said. “Our TWU students conducted focus group interviews, helped develop the text messages and are analyzing the data. They’re making a difference in a public health project and getting experience that will translate well to their future careers.”

TWU has a close-knit university community that fosters collaboration and a pioneer spirit. Marilyn Massey-Stokes, Ed.D.

Massey-Stokes and Davis believe a healthy lifestyle can counter the social and genetic drivers of obesity. Outside of this project and teaching, Massey-Stokes is focused on helping others as a health and wellness coach. Davis is developing online content, including videos and a cookbook that food-insecure children and families can use to better understand how to eat healthfully on a limited budget.

“I love TWU and Denton, and I want to make these communities as healthy as possible,” Davis said.

I love TWU and Denton, and I want to make these communities as healthy as possible. Kathleen Davis, Ph.D.

Page last updated 8:43 AM, April 1, 2019