Melinda S. Sothern, PhD, CEP


Behavioral & Community Health Sciences

LEC 219




Biography & Expertise

Melinda S. Sothern, PhD, CEP is a licensed clinical exercise physiologist and Professor (tenure) in the LSUHSC School of Public Health (Behavioral and Community Health Sciences Program) and School of Medicine (Department of Pediatrics) in New Orleans, LA, and the Prevention of Childhood Obesity Laboratory at the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. She is the recipient of the LSUHSC School of Public Health Jim Finks Endowed Chair in Health Promotion.

Dr. Sothern’s research is widely published in a multitude of peer-reviewed scientific journals and in three scientific textbooks, Safe and Effective Exercise for Overweight Youth (CRC Press, 2014), The Handbook of Pediatric Obesity: Clinical Management (Taylor and Francis, 2006) and The Handbook of Pediatric Obesity: Etiology, Pathophysiology and Prevention (Taylor and Francis, 2005). She also senior-authored a popular press book for parents of overweight children to use in conjunction with their pediatrician or family physician entitled Trim Kids (2001, Harper Collins). The Trim Kids program is recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a Research Tested Intervention Program and is acknowledged by the U. S. Surgeon General for its community dissemination in YMCA centers in Louisiana.

Dr. Sothern was the 2009 recipient of the Obesity Society’s Oded Bar Or Award for Excellence in Pediatric Obesity Research. In 2008 she received the Cecil J. Picard Award for Excellence in Education to Prevent Childhood Obesity in Louisiana, and was selected as one of the Top Ten Female Achievers in New Orleans by New Orleans magazine. She recently received the 2014 Allen Copping Award for Excellence in Teaching at the LSUHSC School of Public Health, and in that same year was honored with a proclamation by the New Orleans City Council as the outstanding alumna of the Human Performance and Health Promotion Program, College of Education and received Dr. Vane Wilson Award in recognition of excellent work and service in the field of human performance and health promotion, University of New Orleans, in May of 2000.

Dr. Sothern is currently serving as Principal Investigator (PI) on two National Institute of Health (NIH)-sponsored studies entitled, Molecular and Social Determinants of Obesity in Developing Youth (NIMHD) and Obesity and Asthma: Determinants of Inflammation and Effects of Intervention (NIMHD), and CO-PI/mentor on two additional studies, Obese Women May Pass Pro-inflammatory Biomarkers through Breast Milk to Infant (DK-NORC) and A Social Marketing Intervention Designed to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Purchases (NIHMD). She also previously served as PI on two additional NIH-sponsored studies entitled, Mechanisms of the Metabolic Syndrome in Pre-pubertal Youth (NICHD/DK-NORC) and Study of Insulin Sensitivity in Louisiana Low and High Birth Weight Pre-Pubertal Youth (NICHD/DK-NORC) and previously served as PI and co-investigator on numerous NIH and other externally funded studies.

Dr. Sothern is considered a national spokesperson for overweight youth and has been featured extensively in national and international television, radio and print media including: Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN International, NPR Radio, Fox News TV, 48 Hours, Nicolodeon TV, The Oprah Show, Discovery Channel, Yorkshire TV British Broadcasting Co., USA Today, Associated Press – World News, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, LA Times, Parents Magazine, Parenting, Better Homes and Garden, Prevention Magazine, Psychology Today, WebMD, and many others.

Dr. Sothern led her field in establishing standardized guidelines for prescribing exercise for children with increasing levels of obesity and is best known for her work in promoting active play as a means of preventing and treating childhood obesity. She is currently an associate editor for the journal, Obesity, and serves on the editorial board of the journals, Pediatric Obesity, Childhood Obesity and Obesity: Science and Practice. She previously served as associate editor for the journal, International Journal of Pediatric Obesity for 4 years. Dr. Sothern co-founded the Pediatric Obesity Interest Group, which is now formally integrated into The Obesity Society as the Pediatric Obesity Section and serves as Scientific Advisory Board Member for the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation, St. George’s University, Grenada. She is also a member of the scientific advisory committees for the United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth and the Louisiana State Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth.

During the past 25 years Dr. Sothern has provided over 250 invited scientific lectures or presentations to universities, medical centers and scientific meetings. She was a scientific presenter for The Obesity Society Distinguished Lecture Series in 2004, the Southeast American College of Sports Medicine Distinguished Lecturer in 2007, and was chosen as the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health Faculty inductee for outstanding public health performance in scholarship, teaching, research and publications in October, 2007

Dr. Sothern founded and currently leads the Scientists for Translational Obesity Research in Youth (STORY) multi-disciplinary research team. The STORY team was the first to document the following in a multi-ethnic cohort of healthy obese and non-obese children and adolescents:

In post-pubertal adolescents:
Inverse association between parental perceived collective efficacy and constrained outdoor play practices (i.e., avoidance and defensive behaviors)
Obesity and neighborhood disadvantage increase asthma risk in black female adolescents.
Waist circumference is associated with early menarche in black female adolescents
Maternal BMI is positively associated with adolescent offspring obesity and total caloric intake
Weight status and SES are associated with global self-esteem in black female adolescents.
Asthma status modifies systemic but not lung-specific inflammatory response following caloric restriction or exercise in black female adolescents.
Developed a novel Systematic Social Observation (SSO) method that characterizes adolescent neighborhoods by parcel-level observation using virtual methods (i.e., Google Street View)

In pre-pubertal youth:
Accurate state-of-the-art measures of ectopic fat, VAT, REE, and insulin sensitivity testing are feasible.
Intrahepatic fat is inversely associated with insulin sensitivity in healthy pre-pubertal youth.
Intrahepatic fat is almost three times higher and insulin sensitivity is two times lower in obese versus non-obese pre-pubertal children regardless of race, sex and body fat.
Pro-inflammatory markers are negatively associated with obesity, subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) and ectopic fat in pre-pubertal youth.
Social factors, e.g. concentrated disadvantage, are negatively associated with obesity and SAT in pre-pubertal youth.

In pre-school youth:
Vegetable intake, outdoor play and better access to grocery stores (ratio of grocery stores to fast food outlets) are negatively associated with obesity in pre-school children.
Fruit intake is positively associated with healthy food environments, e.g. grocery store counts in pre-school children.
Obesity levels are higher in black female pre-schoolers
Racial disparities in sugary drink consumption
Increased physical activity by accelerometry in pre-school youth in Day care Centers following implementation of the NAPSACC Program
Staff nutrition knowledge is associated with healthier feeding practices in preschool day care centers


Selected Publications