Erin Hager, PhD
PFRH is delighted to welcome the newest member of our faculty, Erin Hager, PhD, who joined us in April 2022. Dr. Hager is an Associate Professor with over a decade of research experience in the prevention of childhood obesity and family food insecurity. She is also involved in numerous advocacy efforts, locally and nationally, to improve the health of children and families.
Dr. Hager, a life-long Baltimorean raised in southwest Baltimore City and County, received her BS in Biology from Loyola University Maryland and her PhD in Human Nutrition from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2008. She was a member of the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), with a primary appointment in the Departments of Pediatrics, Growth and Nutrition Division, and a Secondary appointment in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health faculty from 2009-2022, where she built a strong research program which she brings with her to PFRH.
Dr. Hager’s research program has been funded by the USDA, NIH, CDC, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, State contracts, in addition to other foundations and local sources, some of which are outlined below (more information can be found at www.marylandschoolwellness.org).
In a recently completed 8-year partnership with the State Departments of Education and Health, she led an evaluation of wellness best practices in schools throughout Maryland. School-level data were shared, in person, with each of Maryland’s 24 school systems to collaboratively set wellness goals and meet federal school wellness requirements. This project, funded by the CDC and State agencies, has had significant impacts in both research and practice, including publications and subsequent grant funding and strengthening LWP language and implementation initiatives across Maryland. From this work, Dr. Hager has been invited by the CDC, USDA, national conferences, and states to present project data and the overall approach, often called the “Maryland Model”. Based upon this body of work, Dr. Hager is nationally recognized as a leader/expert in school wellness.
Ongoing research projects include a USDA-funded randomized trial wherein teachers and student leaders in low-resource rural, suburban, and urban Maryland schools are trained to serve as “Wellness Champions” who lead wellness teams that implement healthy eating and physical activity best practices. This large-scale evaluation examines the impact on student and teacher health, including diet, physical activity, and obesity. Intervention dissemination and data analysis for this project are underway.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of Dr. Hager’s research projects were suspended or ended prematurely. She was able to use her connections and resources to pivot and begin several new projects, including an evaluation of school meal implementation throughout the pandemic (during school closures, hybrid learning, and the return to school under universal meals), funded by the Maryland State Department of Education and Share our Strength. Additionally, Dr. Hager leads an evaluation of the impact of pandemic control policies on family routines, child behaviors, child obesity, and food insecurity, based on the family stress model. In this NIH-funded study, the team re-recruited and evaluated nearly 700 families previously enrolled in pre-school and school-based studies that ended due to the pandemic and continue to conduct annual evaluations including surveys, dietary assessments, objective physical activity monitors (accelerometers), measured height and weight, and semi-structured interviews. This study, based on the Family Stress Model, will provide an understanding of mechanisms underlying changes in health behaviors and excess weight gain during the pandemic.
Dr. Hager also brings a strong history of service and advocacy to PRFH, at the national, local, and institutional level. Much of her recent national service efforts include working with the CDC under NOPREN (Nutrition Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network) and PAPREN (Physical Activity Policy Research and Evaluation Network). She is the founder and co-chair of the NOPREN/PAPREN School Wellness working group (since 2014) which includes over 200 members nationally. The working group sponsors two Fellows each year, hosts monthly calls, and develops projects, including manuscripts and research/policy briefs. Locally, Dr. Hager was elected to chair the Maryland State School Health Council in 2018 (an organization mandated by state law) through which experts and school system leaders are convened to focus on sharing best practices in school health and legislative initiatives. She is also an invited member of the Maryland State Health and Physical Education Advisory Council, beginning in 2017, which recently worked together to update state health education standards that will begin implementation in the 2022-2023 school year. In recognition of this and other work, Dr. Hager was awarded the “Distinguished Advocate for Healthful Living Award” by SHAPE (Society for Health And Physical Educators) Maryland in 2020. Dr. Hager has also been an active member of the Baltimore City School Health Council (invited) for nearly 7 years. Finally, in May 2020, Dr. Hager was appointed by Governor Hogan to serve on the Baltimore County Board of Education.
While at UMSOM, Dr. Hager was appointed by the Dean to be the Director of the Program in Health Equity and Population Health in 2019. Under her leadership, the Program grew its membership, increased grant submissions, and increased collaborations. Given these successes, in addition to research contributions to the field of health equity, Dr. Hager was awarded the Dean’s Faculty Award for Diversity and Inclusion in February 2020.
Dr. Hager has a strong history of collaboration with members of the BSPH faculty, including many members of PFRH. Her focus on school wellness, child health behaviors, family-centered health promotion clearly aligns with the mission of PFRH. We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Hager to PFRH!!