Medical Student Takes Childhood Obesity Research Across US Borders

Tracy Flood
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Working with children is exciting,” says MD/PhD student Tracy Flood. “They are anxious to learn, anxious to grow.”

Flood is a fourth year medical student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, slated to obtain her MD/PhD in May 2011. Her specialty is in childhood obesity research, an interest that has turned into a passion for her.

Flood gravitated from her undergraduate degree in Human Biology and Psychology toward an interest in childhood obesity during a pediatrics rotation in her third year of medical school.

“I was really struck by the problem,” she said. “I saw it during my pediatrics rotation and during my work in the free clinic. I wanted to do something to help understand this problem – to get ahead of it.”

Flood grew up in the cornfields around DeKalb. As her brother detasseled corn, she counted insects to help combat disease. She got “itchy feet” that took her to study in England at Oxford Brookes where she earned her undergraduate degree in just three years. Then it was back home to Northern Illinois University for her one-year pre-med studies, then down to Champaign-Urbana for her medical degree.

It was during her third year of medical school that Flood petitioned to add a PhD to her studies.

“Research is really important to me. It keeps things fresh and alive. I love research – I love the process.”

Flood is now part of a collaborative, multi-cultural, cross-border research project called UP AMIGOS. The international research team is conducting health screenings on college students in central Mexico, where obesity is rampant and health care and preventative medicine nearly non-existent. The team performs multidisciplinary screenings for students ranging from mental health to obesity-related diseases. Findings will help the San Luis Potosi-based university create new health care policies and initiatives for students.

After Flood graduates in May, she’ll begin her residency in pediatrics through an integrated research pathway that combines research with her residency. She wants to remain in the Midwest at a teaching hospital with strong research capabilities. Plus, she wants to stay close to her DeKalb-based family.

In her spare time, Flood relaxes by walking through Meadowbrook Park near her home. She also has taken up hobbies in cartooning and puppet-making, linking her artistic skills to her passion for fighting childhood obesity. Her cartoons and puppets carry messages of health, nutrition, and education.

Flood is the recipient of a $7,500 fellowship from the Christie Foundation to pursue her passion and degree.