The Charger Blog

Master of Public Health Candidate Committed to Addressing Food Insecurity

Selena Chom ’21, ’23 MPH is a co-author of a paper examining the impact of food insecurity on sexual minority men that was recently published in a leading academic journal. She is now continuing her research on food insecurity, and she hopes to help address the impact it is having on college students.

February 27, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Selena Chom ’21, ’23 MPH.
Selena Chom ’21, ’23 MPH.

Selena Chom ’21, ’23 MPH is passionate about addressing health inequity. She is particularly interested in food insecurity, a challenge that individuals around the globe face and that can affect them physically and mentally.

A candidate in the University’s Master of Public Health program who earned a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from the University, Chom is interested in the social determinants of health and in the different ways in which it can impact individuals. She hopes to go beyond simply addressing these issues. She hopes to help make real and lasting improvements.

Chom was recently part of a team that published a research paper titled “Association between perceived discrimination and food insecurity among sexual minority men” in Nutrition and Health, an online international peer-reviewed journal. The study examined how food insecurity impacted sexual minority men – including gay and bisexual men – in the United States.

“We decided to focus on sexual minority men specifically because if you were to research the data right now, it is very limited and outdated,” explains Chom. “Sexual minority individuals do experience stigma, prejudice, and discrimination because of their sexual orientation identity. In some cases, they are denied access to assistance and food services. As we investigate the data of food insecurity from across the country, it is very important that they are included.”

‘This finding is concerning’

Working with Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, an assistant professor of public health and assistant provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Chom examined current research and literature reviews focused on food insecurity and its impact on sexual minority men and assisted with drafting the manuscript. The team collaborated remotely, discussing their work and communicating via Zoom and email.

“It was a great experience because I learned how to adapt to working and communicating with my team through technology in an efficient way,” she said. “Dr. Tran is a great mentor and assisted me the entire time. Knowing that he believed in me meant everything to me. One of the University’s librarians, Anna Malicka, was also such a pleasure to work with and helped me navigate my entire research process.”

The team found that nearly 36 percent of the sexual minority men they surveyed reported eating less than they should because of financial barriers to buying food in the past year – something Dr. Tran describes as a “concerning” percentage. They also found that food insecurity was associated with their perceived experiences of discrimination. Those who reported more experiences of interpersonal discrimination – such as being treated with less respect than others – were found to be linked to experiencing food insecurity.

“This finding raises the possibility of discrimination being a barrier to sexual minority men accessing and utilizing food insecurity support services, such as food banks and pantries,” said Dr. Tran. “These men may be afraid to go to specific food banks, fearing they will experience discrimination.”

Selena Chom ’21, ’23 MPH presents her research.
Selena Chom ’21, ’23 MPH presents her research.
‘A constant reminder that I am on the right path’

Dr. Tran says the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity for many people across the country, as food banks have seen an increase in need. Chom also presented this research at an American Public Health Association (APHA) conference last semester – an experience that she calls “nerve wracking, but amazing.

“This was such a great opportunity to me because the APHA is one of the biggest public health associations, with experts from all over the country,” she said. “I was excited to present and also to see other students present their work. I was so honored to be a part of this conference and to learn from peers who have been to several conferences. I am now a member of APHA and have access to all of the great resources that they provide.”

The results of this particular study, which also included researchers from Harvard and Yale, have inspired University of New Haven public health researchers to conduct additional research and take steps toward addressing food insecurity.

“Overall, our results fill an existing gap in the scientific literature,” said Dr. Tran. “Our findings have inspired us to pursue additional research and action steps in addressing food insecurity, which is an issue colleges and universities cannot ignore, especially during this ongoing pandemic.”

Chom is looking forward to being a part of that initiative. She and several of her classmates will be conducting interviews to collect more data to identify barriers and make recommendations to improve access to and utilization of food pantries across Connecticut. She says college students are experiencing food insecurity at “an alarming rate,” and she hopes to help determine why, and to explore how college administrators are addressing this issue.

“I learned that new research is always needed, especially for communities and populations that have yet to be examined,” she said. “It is important that there is representation everywhere, especially with current research. Being published is such a humbling experience, and I never thought I would ever be a part of a well-known publication. It is a constant reminder that I am on the right path.”