Featured Profile: Michele Polacsek, PhD, MHS

Michele Polacsek, PhD, MHS Photo

Dr. Michele Polacsek is a social and behavioral scientist trained at the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health where she received a master’s degree in international health in 1989 and a doctoral degree in social and behavioral health in 1994.  

Dr. Polacsek was a visiting assistant professor at the University of New Mexico from 1993-1997, teaching in the Department of Communication and Journalism and the Master's in Public Health Program.  After moving to Maine in 1997, she was employed through the Maine Center for Public Health first as Social Scientist and then as the Scientific Director of the Maine Harvard Prevention Research Center form 2003-2008 before joining the public health faculty at the University of New England in 2009.

For over 12 years she has been focused on reducing childhood obesity and improving youth physical activity and nutrition environments. Key projects include The Maine Youth Overweight Collaborative, which was a joint project of the Maine Harvard Prevention Research Center and the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to address primary care response to the childhood obesity epidemic. She also recently served as Principal Investigator for a study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to assess school food marketing environments. On another recent project, she served as co-PI on a qualitative research study to investigate motivations for obesity related policy-making in a Maine tribal community setting.

In 2009 Dr. Polacsek was appointed to a faculty position at the University of New England where she is currently Associate Professor of Public Health.

It is unknown which aspects of MYOC could be adopted without losing its effectiveness.

In my opinion, the key components of the program include engaging a practice “team” at each participating practice site; implementing PDSA cycles within those practices; holding several learning sessions over an 18 month period for practice teams (including one on lifestyle related motivational interviewing); providing site visits to support practice level changes, and; providing practice sites chart review data for feedback with regard to how they’re doing. That does not mean that specific components implemented wouldn’t necessarily be effective, it’s just that we don’t know for sure.

We heard over and over from our primary care providers that the training sessions we provided on motivational interviewing and discussing lifestyle changes with patients were among the most valuable aspects of MYOC.

The answer to both of those questions is “resources”.  It takes resources to coordinate activities for a collaborative, run learning sessions, perform site visits and chart reviews. However, a lot can be accomplished if each practice has a “champion” for the program and if practice staff are all willing to pitch in to do a little extra from time to time. For example, a staff member could conduct some chart reviews each week to monitor progress.  If participating practices are part of a larger practice “system” then support from upper level management may be key. Providing some kind of incentives for practice teams who are able to accomplish program activities may be a good way to help ensure success. Primary care practices tend to be so busy that one of the greatest challenges to getting the work of the program done is carving out the time. Scheduling some practice team lunches and time for the team to attend learning sessions well in advance will go a long way. This also requires the support of upper level management given the loss of revenue generating activities during time away to accomplish program activities.

All of the evaluation tools we used to evaluate our program are on the program website. (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/prc/clinical-tools/)

My work is currently focused on childhood obesity prevention. Most recently I have been focused on policy approaches to impact risk factors for childhood obesity such as reducing junk food and beverage marketing in schools and other statewide policy efforts aimed at reducing the purchase and consumption of non nutritious food and beverage items.

Updated: 04/10/2020 01:25:47