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Credit: Mark Shtrakhman

Karen Glanz, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology, just started her four-year term on the Advisory Council for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute after being appointed to the position by former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell this past November.

Glanz was one of four new members on the 17-person Advisory Council, which met for the first time this term at the National Institutes of Health’s campus in Bethesda, Md. earlier this month.

The National Institutes of Health is the premiere national infrastructure for health-related research, and the NHLBI is one of the primary three of the 27 total institutes and centers under the umbrella of the NIH.

“Part of the reason that people like me are willing to do these kinds of things, because it’s not paying the bills, they don’t pay my salary... [is] because you learn, and you get a window into where the field is going and into new developments, and that really benefits what I do at Penn,” she said.

Glanz arrived at Penn in 2009 as the Penn Integrates Knowledge professor, the first ever in the School of Nursing, and established the Center for Health Behavior Research. Her research background focuses on chronic disease prevention and management using behavioral science to address various problems related to keeping people healthy. Her work began to focus more on the Philadelphia community since moving to Penn from Emory University in 2009.

Sarah Green, the center’s research project manager, followed Glanz to Penn from Emory University, where she completed her master’s degree in public health and worked for Glanz as a research assistant. As someone who has worked with Glanz for several years, Green said Glanz is the perfect fit for her new role on the Advisory Council.

“She’s very collaborative and interdisciplinary,” Green said. “So we’re always working with a lot of different people, not just people within our department or in our school, but people across the university or across the country, so it makes the work really interesting and really exciting.”

The center’s core research project applies research to real-life practice in an interdisciplinary way. A weight-loss trial that the center works on weighs the effectiveness of giving incentives for weight loss with the effectiveness of giving guidance on how to change participants’ environment, like reorganizing their commutes to be more active or fitting healthier eating into their lifestyles. One of Glanz’s studies found that financial incentives can promote weight loss.

Apart from conducting research, Glanz used the Center for Health Behavior Research to help make connections between people at Penn who can contribute to health prevention and promotion in a variety of different ways.

Through a series of seminars called “Linking Research and Practice,” Glanz brought in leaders in practice or policy areas of health-related issues — the first of whom were Philadelphia’s director of health and the director of chronic disease — to engage in a dialogue with faculty across schools at Penn.

“The different faculty in the room get to discuss with each other what they are doing and find common ground,” Glanz said. “Because people who are just in medical school, or people who might be in Wharton or the Annenberg School for Communication or the nursing school all come together and bring their unique perspectives, and Penn is a good place for that.”