Winning ways

Maryville student shows public health interest runs in the family

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By Stephanie Woodings
Blount Today

Maryville High School senior Zoe Durand spent the fall semester with her mind thousands of miles away on an island in Asia, but she came by the interest in that far away place honestly, and she wasn’t daydreaming.

Durand, daughter of Dr. Mark Durand with the Blount County Health Department and Beverly Green, worked for several months studying the changing lifestyles over the last 50 years of the people of the Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia. She came to study the people of Yap because her father was the director of health for the island until recently.

Her work on the study has earned her a national award and a $2,000 scholarship.

The premise for the study dealt with the increase in obesity in the people in Yap as studies show they have increasingly struggled with being overweight and have dealt with the complications brought on by unhealthy diet. Zoe’s project was entitled "Age of Onset Obesity, Diabetes and Hypertension in Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia."

Durand submitted her research to Young Epidemiology Scholars, a nationwide competition held in Washington, D.C. For her efforts, she was awarded a $2,000 scholarship.

Over 700 students entered this competition and 60 were selected. The candidates developed a research project in which they identified a health problem, gathered data about that problem and addressed the problem based on the data they gathered. They were then questioned by a panel of judges and had the opportunity to hear the acting Surgeon General speak.

Queried as to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this project, Durand said that she was once a resident of the tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. Her father is an epidemiologist and was the Director of Health there until just recently, when he accepted a post at the Blount County Health Department.

Durand, her younger sister Alex, and her mother Beverly Green, an environmental educator, settled in this area and commuted every six months or so to be with Dr. Durand on the island while he was there.

Durand’s research showed how the changes in lifestyle and business has affected the people of Yap. When the island lifestyle was more traditional, up until the 1950s, the people of Yap never had a problem with obesity. Up until that point, the inhabitants worked the land and sea for their livelihood and their food. Automobiles were not available, so everyone rode a bicycle or walked. Now, the convenience of canned goods and fast food along with the easy access to personal vehicles has given rise to a number of health maladies that the older population on the island had never experienced, she said.

Yap does have a hospital and a developed health system, but "they are a developing country," said Durand, "So it (the health system) is not as efficient and all-encompassing as the one in America. Actually, diseases relating to hypertension, obesity, and diabetes are in the top five for mortality," in Yap, she said.

Although she has the YES scholarship, and she has an interest in obstetrics, Durand isn’t quite sure she wants to go into the medical field. Her passion is history, "specifically Renaissance History." Among the careers she is investigating are museum curator and a rainforest canopy researcher.

Sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and administered by the College Board, the YES competition is designed to spur the interest of high school students in the field of public health, specifically epidemiology. Epidemiology explores patterns of disease, illness and injury within populations, with the goal of developing methods for prevention, control and treatment to improve health.

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