Meet the Dietitian behind the DASH DietFaculty Feature: Get to Know Dr. Catherine Champagne

Released: Thursday, April 19, 2018

LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center is home to nearly 60 researchers who work every day to uncover the mysteries of chronic disease. Our faculty consistently discover new relationships between physical activity, nutrition, disease, metabolism, and more. In this series, we get closer to our scientists and divulge their passions, quirks, and accomplishments.

Dr. Catherine Champagne recalls driving down Perkins Road while Pennington Biomedical was in its construction phase in the 1980s.

Q&A with Dr. Champagne

Q: What is your favorite meal?
A: What would you expect from a Cajun? Of course it is boiled seafood: boiled crawfish, boiled crab, boiled shrimp. I also love a good, spicy gumbo.

Q: What is your preferred form of exercise?
A: Walking. But lately I have been spending more time at the computer and I need to get out by the [Pennington] Lake.

Q: What are your hobbies?
A: Number one is traveling. I love getting on an airplane and seeing other parts of the U.S. and Europe. Southern France is a favorite. I know I have kinfolk in France, and I’m determined to see where they are and what they do. Maybe there’s a famous chef in the genealogy, since cooking is another favorite hobby.

"I remember bringing my kids to kindergarten, thinking, 'I'd really like to work there someday,'" she recalled.

Dr. Champagne is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a PhD in nutrition. Her expertise in menu development, dietary counseling, dietary intake assessment, and nutrition related to chronic disease led her to develop the DASH Diet in 1993.

You may have heard of the diet – it's been ranked the world's healthiest diet by U.S. News &amps; World Report for eight years running. Often prescribed as a remedy to high blood pressure, the diet's official name is Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

DASH is only one highlight of Champagne's career. Born and raised in Southern Louisiana, Champagne always had a strong appreciation for home-cooked food, but her interest was heightened when she decided to pursue a Master of Science in dietetics.

"I started becoming more interested in how food affects the body," Champagne said. "All too often we eat things and we have no idea what they’re doing on the inside."

Dr. Champagne joined Pennington Biomedical in December 1989 to work on a series of projects involving military soldier nutrition.

Nearly 30 years later, she still works closely with the U.S. Department of Defense but her research has expanded to different facets of nutrition.

In addition to DASH and various military diets, Dr. Champagne also designed the meal plans for several other large-scale studies. Those include DELTA (Dietary Effects on Lipoproteins and Thrombogenic Activity), POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies). On the counseling end, she was involved in the Diabetes Prevention Program, and Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes).

What kind of research does a dietitian do?

Champagne’s research has traditionally focused on diet design using a computerized nutrient database, as well as diet and lifestyle interventions to combat obesity and cardiovascular disease and to promote behavior change. She is also the coordinator of the Women's Nutrition Research Program at Pennington Biomedical, an education and outreach program tailored to women's health.

Today, Dr. Champagne works with the Louisiana Department of Education to work with child-nutrition professionals in schools throughout the state as part of the National School Lunch Program funded by USDA. The Louisiana Fit Kids project includes training for school health professionals, development of an interactive website devoted to child nutrition, and an Administrative Review of school nutrition authorities every three years.

"This project is so important because our schoolchildren are our future," Champagne said. "This is just one of many things Pennington offers our state in terms of proper health and nutrition education."

Approaching 30 years of work at Pennington Biomedical, Dr. Champagne still feels fulfilled by her work.

"I could retire today if I wanted to," she said. "But I don't. I still wake up excited every morning to come to work. I work more than 40 hours a week and I do volunteer activities related to my job because I know I'm making a difference."

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