Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Public Health
“Cancer rates parallel obesity rates”
Niyati Parekh is committed to biological research that can reach the population at large and bring about changes to the broader community. Her work evaluates how lifestyle -- particularly related to nutrition -- can affect chronic disease risk. She hopes that her findings can be translated into clinical practice and help clinicians adopt a comprehensive approach to treating disease by incorporating lifestyle and diet into their treatment plans.
Parekh’s research focuses on the effects of vitamin D on macular degeneration (loss of vision due to a damaged retina) and the relationship between obesity, insulin resistance, and cancer mortality. Parekh’s work has revealed that obesity has negative affects at all stages of the cancer process from limiting findings on early screenings to cancer deaths. By analyzing data on men and women ranging in age from 20-79 from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Parekh and cancer epidemiologists from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey concluded that insulin resistance (a condition associated with excess body weight) was associated with a 41% increased risk of overall cancer mortality. This study was published in the Cancer Causes and Control journal in January 2010 and featured in International Innovation, a magazine that disseminates research to the scientific community.
"Individuals who are insulin resistant or have higher fasting blood glucose are at an increased risk of dying from cancer," Parekh says. She notes that her research has practical implications as it incorporates dietary and physical activity into cancer management.
Parekh is passionate about teaching nutrition research and teaches students how to apply the results of their research in a practical setting.
Parekh brings a multicultural perspective to Steinhardt’s masters' programs in nutrition, food studies, and public health where she teaches courses on public health nutrition and global issues in nutrition. Parekh’s education in both India and the United States help her provide a broad perspective of vastly different lifestyles in relation to disease.
"India and the United States have represented two extremes of malnutrition and obesity,” Parekh says. “However, westernization in India is slowly tipping the balance." She notes that limited social mobility mean that not all people have the same access to the same foods.
“Here in the US, healthy eating is difficult because the messages from the food industry are often misleading.” Parekh says. She believes that poor dietary choices is contributing to the obesity epidemic and is one of the most important nutrition issues confronting Americans today.