Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Maureen Black, Ph.D.
MSA SC 3520-15857

Biography:

Dr. Maureen M. Black (b. December 12, 1945) has devoted her life to serving women and children.  Born in Tacoma, Washington, Black traversed the country as she pursued academic degrees:  she traveled east for a bachelor's degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from Penn State University, back to the west coast to work on a master's degree in Occupational Therapy and Psychology from the University of Southern California, and then to Atlanta for her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Emory University.  After completing her formal education and continuing to refine her interests, she returned to California for an internship in child development at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.  Black's work has also taken her to Bangladesh, Peru, and England.1

Dr. Black currently holds a variety of positions within the medical community. She is the John A. Scholl and Mary Louise School Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the founder and director of the Growth and Nutrition Clinic at the University of Maryland.  In addition, Black chairs the Maryland Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Advisory Committee.  Her leadership activities are extensive: Chair of the Child Health Foundation, President of two divisions of the American Psychological Association (Society of Pediatric Psychology and Society of Child, Youth and Family Services), and Founder of Global Child Development Group in Jamaica.    In all of these endeavors, her focus is on women and children in "insecure" environments, and on efforts to create opportunities for a healthy lifestyle.2

Currently, a great deal of attention is focused on the epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.S.  Dr. Black is on the front lines in this battle, but she also directs her efforts to those who are underweight and malnourished.  "There is no shortage of these kids," Black said.  Lack of information about proper nutrition for children, particularly for low-income, often single, mothers, contributes to this problem.  Black recommends a variety of approaches to change unhealthy behaviors, including setting regular meal times, limiting snacking, not engaging in negotiating at meals, and never forcing a child to eat.  One of Blacks current areas of research is on the long term impact of being underweight – specifically, whether underweight children, who have irregular and unhealthy eating patterns, become obese as adults. 4  

Black’s work has highlighted the fact that malnourishment is not only a problem in underweight people.  Overweight people can be malnourished as well, Black points out: “people hear 'malnourished,' they think 'skinny.'  But if you're eating those noodles all the time that fill you up and have no nutritional value, you can turn fat." 5  This is often a problem for low income families, because they are forced to buy food that is inexpensive, but often unhealthy.  Solutions must begin at home, Black argues. Since “children tend to choose familiar foods,” their healthy habits must start “in the home environment.” 6

Dr. Black's approach to malnourished children is to change not only the child’s habits but the environment around the child.  This involves the entire family.  With an obese child, for example, Black says, "The difficulty is if a family decides to restrict what a child is eating; the evidence suggests that there is a boomerang effect.  The family restricts, that over-emotionalizes food, the child eats more and gains weight."7   Instead, Black suggests shifting the focus from the child to the family: the family can take walks together and limit television watching.  Black urges a "focus on things the whole family can do, not focusing on the child as having a medical problem." 8

The issue of "food insecurity," referring to households with no steady supply of healthy food, is one that generates anger and indignation in Black:  "In the United States, we should be up in arms about any food insecurity.  We are the richest country in the world, and we shouldn't have families anxious about getting their next meal." 9  One way to attack food insecurity is through existing federal programs, and Black's involvement with WIC is a central aspect to her crusade for the nutritional health of women and children.  Her goal is to get more families enrolled in the program, as recipients are more likely to have healthy heights and weights than those who are eligible but not enrolled in the program.10  They also show fewer signs of developmental problems.11  For Black, "The evidence is clear.  Hunger exists...and young children benefit from WIC and Food Stamps." 12  WIC, in turn, has benefitted from Dr. Black’s research and support. The director of Maryland's WIC program, Jackie Marlette Boras, said," Maureen's input is so valuable to our program, showing us how we can offer the best services to our participants." 13   Black has also felt a responsibility to inform the public about these issues, as well as to comment on current legislative policies by writing editorials for major newspapers, particularly The Baltimore Sun.  In one piece, she wrote in support of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which would increase funding for child nutrition.  To Black, this is essential, because "Children's young bodies and brains cannot wait for an economic recovery." 14

Her devotion to her work and the families and children she helps certainly keeps Dr. Black busy.  Sarah Oberlander, Ph.D., one of Black's former students, said, "Her work in all these different areas keeps her running around like crazy, but I think it energizes her as well." 15  The work and time commitment of a scientist is not foreign to Black's family: her husband, Dr. Robert Black, is the Chair of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomber School of Public Health.  They have two daughters, Maresa and Shaunti. Black's energy and committment have benefitted many grateful women and children.

 
Endnotes:

1. 2012 Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Nomination Package. Return to text.
2. Ibid. Return to text.
3. "Too Little Food To Grow On; The Disorder Called 'Failure To Thrive' Can Be Hard For Parents To Spot, But Help Is Near," The Baltimore Sun, 19 August 2007. Return to text.
4. Ibid. Return to text.
5. "City Plans Hunger Fight; Report Shows Pervasive Malnutrition," The Baltimore Sun, 16 July 2008. Return to text.
6. "The New School Lunch," QSR, 26 May 2011. Accessed 9 July 2012. Return to text.
7. "Panel Urges Obesity Tests For Children As Young As 6," The Baltimore Sun, 18 January 2010. Return to text.
8. Ibid. Return to text.
9. "City Plans Hunger Fight; Report Shows Pervasive Malnutrition," The Baltimore Sun, 16 July 2008. Return to text.
10. "Feeding the children," Monitor on Psychology, September 2010. Return to text.
11. Ibid.  Return to text.
12. "New Study Finds Hunger in Baltimore," Health Department, Baltimore, Maryland, 15 July 2008. Return to text.
13. "Feeding the children," Monitor on Psychology, September 2010. Return to text.
14. Ibid. Return to text.
15. Ibid. Return to text.

Biography written by 2012 summer intern Anne Powell.

Return to Dr. Maureen Black's Introductory Page
 
 
 
 


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