Lois and Mel Tukman Assistant Professor
416 Savage Hall
Ithaca, New York
Division of Nutritional Sciences


As a health disparities researcher, I conduct interventions that address socioeconomic and environmental influences on food choices, while drawing upon my expertise in mixed methods and community-based research. More specifically, I design innovative and culturally relevant interventions that aim to improve dietary behaviors among impoverished, minority youth that reside in urban communities. Thus, my research lies at the intersection of poverty, race/ethnicity, nutrition, and health (e.g., obesity and type 2 diabetes). Understanding and intervening on health disparities is complex and requires a multidisciplinary approach. As such, the majority of my research involves collaborators from diverse training backgrounds (e.g., economics, sociology, food science, business marketing, technology, etc.). I am deeply committed to conducting research that informs public health programming and policy. As such, the majority of my research studies have a clearly identified plan for translation from the very beginning. 

Title: Food Overcoming our Diabetes Risk (FoodRx)

Role: Co-Investigator 

Location: Northern California

Stage: Data collection completed. Analyzing findings, submitting conference abstracts and peer reviewed manuscripts. 

Brief Overview:  Low-income, racially/ethnically diverse families with at least one child diagnosed with pre-diabetes received weekly deliveries (for 16 weeks) of fiber-rich, fresh vegetables and whole grain products. Families were also invited to attend three cooking education sessions on how to prepare recipes that include whole grain products. Pre-post changes in dietary intake, clinical measures, and various behavioral outcomes will be examined. 


Title: Examining the feasibility of altering the food choice architecture in corner stores

Location: New York City

Stage: Planning. Data collection (i.e., store audits, surveys, and interviews) will take place between May and August of 2018. 

Brief Overview: The purpose of this research is to learn more about the following from corner store owners located in limited resource communities: 1) efforts made to increase the availability and accessibility of healthier foods/beverages, 2) challenges experienced when attempting to maintain the availability and accessibility of healthier foods/beverages, and 3) additional changes corner store owners would like to make in order to increase the purchase of healthier foods/beverages, as well as the support and resources needed to make and sustain these changes. 


Title: Advanced Cooking Education (ACE) Program: An Evidenced-Based 4-H After School Club For Racially Diverse, Urban Youth

Location: New York City

Stage: Planning. Several grant proposals have been submitted. Formative research  and data collection will take place between May and December of 2018 (e.g., interviews with Title I middle school principals and focus groups with students attending Title I middle schools).

Brief Overview: A new culinary science after school program that will consist of hip hop yoga, culinary science mini lessons, and cooking labs where students prepare a healthy dinner meal that they will take home to feed their family. The Program will target middle school aged youth attending Title I middle schools in urban communities. Program participants will become part of a longitudinal cohort. 


Overcash F, Reicks M, Ritter A, Leak T, Swenson A, Vickers Z. Children residing in low-income households like a variety of vegetables. Foods. 2018; 7, 1-9.

Leak TM, Aasand TA, Vickers Z, Reicks M. The Role of Adolescents From A Low Socioeconomic Background in Household Food Preparation: A Qualitative Study. Health Promot Prac. 2018. [Epub]

Tester J, Leung C, Leak TM, Laraia B. Recent trend towards increased intake of whole grains is not seen in lower-income adolescents: NHANES 2005-2012. Prev Chron Dis. 2017; E55 (14): E1-8.

Leak TM, Swenson A, Vickers Z, Mann T, Mykerezi E, Redden J, Rendahl A, Reicks M. Identifying feasible behavioral economics strategies that encourage home dinner vegetable consumption among low-income children. Public Health Nutr. 2017; 20 (8): 1388-1392.

Laraia B, Leak TM, Tester J, Leung C. Biobehavioral factors that shape nutrition in low-income populations: A narrative review. Am J Prev Med. 2017; 52 (2S2): S118-S126.

Leak TM, Swenson A, Vickers Z, Mann T, Mykerezi E, Redden JP, Rendahl J, Reicks M.  Testing the effectiveness of in-home behavioral economics strategies to increase vegetable intake, liking and variety among children residing in households that receive food assistance. J Nut Educ Behav. 2015; 47(2): e1-e9.

Leak TM, Benavente L, Goodell LS, Lassiter A, Lorelei Jones L, Bowen S.  EFNEP graduates'' perspectives on the use of social media to supplement nutrition education: focus group findings. J Nut Educ Behav. 2014; 46 (3): 203-208.

2018-               Member, American Public Health Association 

2016-               Member, International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

2013-               Member, American Society for Nutrition  

2012-               Member, Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior


As an educator, I am constantly exploring innovative teaching strategies that engage students in the learning experience. For example, I applied a flipped classroom model to teach an undergraduate Health Behavior and Health Education Theory course. Using this learner-center pedagogical approach, students completed readings and reviewed online instructional materials prior to class. The classroom was reserved for interactive activities (e.g., Think-Write-Pair-Share) and in-depth discussions.

01/2017-03/2017   Supervised Field Training and Report Writing Course (HSC 4500). Nursing and Health Science Department, California State University-East Bay. Hayward, CA.

*Please note, I did not teach any courses at Cornell University June 1, 2017-December 31, 2017. 

2015-2017       Postdoctoral Training, Public Health Nutrition Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley, CA.           

2015                Ph.D. Nutrition, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities ,Saint Paul, MN.

2010                M.S. Nutrition, Meredith College, Raleigh, NC.

2007                B.A. Spanish, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.                                                           



LinkedIn: tmleak