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Dr. Erik Willis

Dr. Erik Willis, PhD, has been promoted to Director of the Children’s Healthy Weight Research Group at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Dr. Willis received his Doctorate in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kansas and a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from Yale University. He joined the Children’s Healthy Weight Research Group as a Research Scientist in 2019. During his five years with the group, Dr. Willis has served as Principal Investigator, contributed his expertise across numerous projects, and led university committee initiatives.

“Dr. Willis is the perfect combination of inspiring leader and team player. He is highly respected for his expertise and innovation among members of the Children’s Healthy Weight Research Group, and widely sought after by other research teams for his skills in study design and analysis. He actively participates in all activities of our Center,” commented Dr. Alice Ammerman, DrPH, Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

Acknowledging his drive and dedication, Founding Director of the Children’s Healthy Weight Research group, Dr. Dianne Ward, EdD, recruited Dr. Willis into the group’s senior leadership team, with the goal of appointing him as Director upon her retirement. Over the past several years, Drs. Ward and Willis worked jointly to align the group’s trajectory for the coming years with its mission to support caregivers and those in their care through equitable, innovative strategies that promote health and wellness.

“Dr. Willis has provided significant contributions to the development of our research team, and we look forward to his continued leadership as Director,” said Dr. Falon Smith, PhD, Director of Research Dissemination for the research group.

As Dr. Willis transitions to the position of Director of the Children’s Healthy Weight Research Group on January 2, 2024, he aims to honor Dr. Ward’s legacy as Founding Director by continuing high-quality research for the public good.

“As I step into the role of Director, I feel a deep sense of humility and honor in continuing Dr. Ward’s legacy. I’m inspired by the principles she valued and look forward to leading a dedicated team committed to our mission. Together, we will uphold the impact Dr. Ward has made and ensure her memory lives on through our group’s collective achievements. As we face upcoming opportunities and challenges, our goal will be to continue to shape a brighter future guided by the values Dr. Ward held dear,” Dr. Willis said.

The Children’s Healthy Weight Research group was founded in with the aim of improving the health and wellbeing of the nation’s youngest children by supporting their caregivers in providing health promoting environments. The research group has successfully conducted numerous early care and education interventions that benefit children and their caregivers. The group’s flagship program, Go NAPSACC has reached over 10,000 early care and education programs across 30 states and has been adapted for international use.  

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