Student Spotlight: Alex Lee

Alexandra LeeWherever Alex Lee goes, success seems to follow.


When the HOBI Ph.D. candidate attended the 2018 ObesityWeek conference in Nashville, Tennessee, last November, her abstract was selected as one of the Top 12 Early Career Abstracts of the conference.

Later that month, Lee published her first first-author article, “Social Status and Adolescent Physical Activity: Expanding the Insurance Hypothesis to Incorporate Energy Expenditure” in The American Journal for Lifestyle Medicine.

This year, she received one of three professional development awards at the 2019 ICHP-Pediatrics Research Day on Feb. 7. The $500 stipends and trophies are given to students with the strongest research presentations.

Lee also received an invitation to be a symposium speaker at the 2019 ObesityWeek conference, where she will give a 30-minute presentation in November.

Lee’s faculty mentor, Michelle Cardel, Ph.D., R.D. , M.S., said, “I have been going to this conference for the last 13 years, and I have never seen a Ph.D. student be invited to speak at a symposium. It is a reflection of all the hard work Alex has put in and the support she has received during her time at HOBI.”

ObesityWeek’s mission is to unite “world-renowned experts in obesity to share innovation and breakthroughs in science unmatched around the globe.” The annual conference, hosted by The Obesity Society and The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, bills itself as “the largest obesity-focused conference in the world.”

At the 2018 ObesityWeek conference, the society awarded Lee with a Poster of Excellence in its health services research section. She was one of three recipients in this category, which is open to all researchers.

The society also chose Lee to give an oral presentation of the article she co-authored: “Patients’ Experiences with Received Health Care Services in Individuals with Overweight and Obesity.”

The article analyzes how obesity might impact a patient’s access to quality care. However, the results showed that body mass index is not linked with patients’ reported experiences within health-care environments.

Additionally, as one of 12 early-career members with top-scoring abstracts, Lee was invited participate in a “Lightning Talk” competition. During the competition, members had three minutes to present their research findings, using only one slide.

Lee aims to combat the pervasiveness of childhood obesity through research that sheds light on successful preventive methods and interventions to be used in health-care and educational environments.

Her article, “Social Status and Adolescent Physical Activity: Expanding the Insurance Hypothesis to Incorporate Energy Expenditure,” considers the relationship between adolescent social status and physical activity.

Compared to youth from educated, high-income families, children in lowest-income families are at higher risk of developing obesity and adverse health conditions, according to the article.

Most research focuses on how environmental determinants (infrastructure, policy and social relationships) impact the relationship between an adolescent’s social status and physical activity. However, Lee and Cardel’s review paper explores the possibility of a biological mechanism at work.

“We think there might be something happening within the biology that’s increasing adolescents’ energy intake, decreasing their energy expenditure, or both,” she said. “Any of those could lead to positive energy balance over time, which will lead to obesity.”

Having a better understanding of how social status affects physical activity—particularly in underserved populations—could help improve clinical health interventions and public health campaigns, she said.

“This is an area of need that we must start looking into, and that’s what Dr. Cardel and I are working on in these studies,” Lee said. “We’re looking into this new way of thinking about the different mechanisms that could underlie the development of obesity.”