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YSPH Professor Elected to National Academy of Medicine

October 21, 2019

Yale School of Public Health Professor Rafael Pérez-Escamilla—a researcher with wide-ranging expertise in maternal-child nutrition, food security, diabetes and global health—has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM).

NAM seeks to improve the health of everyone by advancing science, improving health equity and providing independent and authoritative advice in the fields of medicine and public health nationally and globally. 

His election was announced today—October 21—during NAM’s 2019 annual meeting. 

“These newly elected members represent the most exceptional scholars and leaders whose remarkable work has advanced science, medicine, and health in the U.S. and around the globe,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau.

Founded in 1970, NAM today has more than 2,200 members. It elects no more than 75 new members each year based on professional achievement and volunteer service. Pérez-Escamilla, Ph.D., joins two other Yale School of Public Health scientists who are already members—Dean Sten H. Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., and former Dean Paul D. Cleary, Ph.D. 

“Being elected to the National Academy of Medicine is a truly humbling honor as it represents the recognition of highly respected peers of the scientific and policy value of my lifetime contributions to advancing the field of public health nutrition globally,” said Pérez-Escamilla, who is also director of the Office of Public Health Practice and director of the Global Health Concentration at the school. He joined YSPH in 2009.

NAM focuses on those critical health issues that need to have evidence-based principles applied to inform policymakers and to inspire investments to solve major medical and public health problems with community engagement. It also seeks to develop the new generation of scientists and policy innovators. At any given time, many NAM members are serving on commissioned studies by committees for high-priority challenges in domestic and foreign health.

“Dr. Pérez-Escamilla is a superb teacher, mentor, and pioneer in global public health. His research contributions have made a fundamental difference in child health both in Connecticut and around the world,” said Vermund. “We are incredibly fortunate to have Rafael as a community and global health leader at the Yale School of Public Health.” 

Over the last three decades, Pérez-Escamilla has developed, led and implemented pioneering programs in public health nutrition. His multidisciplinary research focuses on the effective translation of evidence generated on a small scale to the design of policies and programs across the life course at the national and global level. 

A unique feature of his work is that it is people-centered and based on complex adaptive systems and life course equity frameworks and has been informed by primary research in over 15 countries across five regions of the world. The impact has ranged from improvements in policies, programs and outcomes in breastfeeding promotion and support; maternal, infant and young child feeding; iron deficiency among infants; and early childhood development; to improvements in household food security and type 2 diabetes self-management. 

As a result of this global impact, Pérez-Escamilla has been a scientific expert advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Human Services and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. 

In his role as a scientific advisor, Pérez-Escamilla has helped shape highly impactful health and nutrition guidelines, including the 2009 NASEM Weight Gain During Pregnancy Guidelines, the 2010 and 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the WHO/UNICEF/World Bank Global Nurturing Care Framework for advancing early childhood development, The WHO/UNICEF guideline for implementation of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, The WHO/UNICEF guideline on Breastfeeding Counseling, the Healthy Eating Research-RWJF Responsive Feeding Guidelines for Infants and Young Toddlers, the NASEM Review of WIC Food Packages for Improving Balance and Choice, the WHO guideline on Delayed Umbilical Cord Clamping for Improved Maternal and Infant Health and Nutrition Outcomes, and the FAO guideline on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale.

“It is wonderful news that Rafael has been elected to the NAM,” said Cleary. “This is one of the highest honors for health scientists and is a wonderful affirmation of the excellence, importance, and impact of his scientific and policy work related to public health nutrition.”

NAM is one of three academies in the United States that make up the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The academics are based in Washington, D.C.

“I am truly grateful to my family and the constellation of communities, students, postdoctoral fellows, academic colleagues, and collaborators from all over the world that have made this recognition possible and so meaningful,” said Pérez-Escamilla.

In addition to Pérez-Escamilla, five faculty from the Yale School of Medicine were also elected to NAM on Monday. They include Jorge Galán, Ph.D., D.V.M., David Schatz, Ph.D., Akiko Iwasaki, Ph.D., Nita Ahuja, M.D., M.B.A., and Nenad Sestan, M.D., Ph.D.

Submitted by Sayuri Gavaskar on October 21, 2019