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Symbol of HOPE Award
Virginie Zoumenou, PhD, CNS, LDN
Dr. Virginie Zoumenou earned, in 1994, her ﬁrst doctorate in biochemistry and nutrition from the National University of Abidjan Cote D’Ivoire, and in 2006, a PhD in dietetics and nutrition at Florida International University.
Throughout her career, Dr. Zoumenou has advocated for health promotion, research, and practices that emphasize the cultural inﬂuence on healthy lifestyles among low-income populations in Africa and in the U.S. Her research activities prior to her transition to the U.S. focused on weaning foods and the dietary rehabilitation of malnourished children in low-income clinics in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire and on micronutrient deﬁciencies among low-income populations living in rural areas. In Miami she focused on understanding the factors inﬂuencing a commitment to the self-management of Type 2 diabetes among black populations in Miami, Florida, and Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire. As a result, the Commitment to Lifestyle Self-Management (CLSM) instrument was developed to assess the strength of the clients with Type 2 diabetes. It was validated and published in English, French, Spanish, and Creole. Many countries, such as Barbados, Bahrain, Jordan, etc., requested this instrument and recently a researcher in nursing at Mu’tah University in Jordan requested permission to translate the CLSM into Arabic. Dr. Zoumenou expanded her interest in the importance of cultural factors on lifestyle among vulnerable populations in 2006 when she was appointed as the director of the 1890 Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). She targeted low-income families with children and youth who receive reduced lunches. To better serve the community, she has assessed and understands the culture and has implemented a program based on the African American low-income cultural concept.
For the last 7 years, Dr Zoumenou has trained lay people in the community to become paraprofessionals who in turn train their peers on healthy lifestyle, food resources management, food safety, food preparation, and gardening. The program was implemented in collaboration with Social Services. These collaborations have helped her reach the hard to reach population on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. In addition, she implemented vegetable cooking sessions at the farmers’ market on the Lower Eastern Shore targeting low-income women who receive WIC vouchers.
Dr. Zoumenou, for the past 7 years, has received approximately $1,500,000 from annual federal allocations, competitive grants, and foundations to implement programs serving underserved populations and promoting culturally appropriate healthy lifestyle strategies.
Dr. Zoumenou purports that the prevention of childhood obesity should start at an early age, such as 3 years old. She also reasons that a multilevel program has the potential to result in a more sustainable behavior change. For the last 3 years, she has planned and implemented a multilevel program including preschoolers, caregivers, teachers, cafeteria staff, farmers, and community nutrition educators in the Princess Anne Head Start Center in Somerset County, Maryland. It not only increased the preschoolers’ knowledge of a healthy lifestyle, but it also impacted the eating habits of their caregivers and siblings.
As a dietetic internship program preceptor, Dr. Zoumenou supervises the research and community nutrition education rotation. She received the Maryland Dietetic Association Award of Excellence for mentoring dietetics interns who won the ﬁrst prize, the Maryland Dietetic Association Poster Award of Excellence.
Dr. Zoumenou also has an outstanding volunteer record. As a Winrock International/USAID technical assistant, in 2010, she served the Farmer-to-Farmer Program through the CHILDREN of HOPE Project in Nigeria to empower 250 female caregivers of HIV orphans and vulnerable children. She used income-generating activities to train them to process yams into ﬂour and to use local produce to prepare weaning and nutritious food for malnourished children. In 2012, she also served the Feed the Future ADVANCE Program in Ghana to develop nutritional strategies for practical interventions that would strengthen the contribution of the soybean value chain to improved nutrition in the northern region of Ghana. She was awarded the White House President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2010 and 2012. In 2011, Dr. Zoumenou initiated collaboration with the Africa Regional Services and the Foreign Agricultural Service/USDA at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France. She volunteered to serve two outreach programs serving immigrants in Paris. In the United States, Dr. Zoumenou was a member of the NIFA Nutrition Health Program Planning and Guidance Committee and was recently nominated director-at-large for the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior.
The Robert F. Allen Symbol of H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People through Empowerment) Award is presented annually by the American Journal of Health Promotion to an individual who makes an outstanding contribution to serving the health promotion needs of underserved populations or to promoting cultural diversity within health promotion. The cash award is made possible through grants provided by the California Wellness Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and individual donors.