First Person: A conversation with Sarah Mummah, founder of DreamCatchers and Ph.D. candidate in public health at University of Cambridge and Stanford University


Caution: being near Sarah Mummah can cause healthy habits to form because she believes that if you can change people's behaviors, you can change the world. A self-described minimalist, she runs, writes and eats vegetables.

Now a Gates Scholar in public health and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University, Mummah's masters thesis was entitled "Do 'Nudge' Interventions in Schools Increase Healthier Eating Behaviors?"

Mummah's current work centers around her mobile phone. She created — with the help of Stanford Medicine, Vendus Product Labs, and the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab — a mobile app called Vegethon that "enables swift and delightful vegetable tracking" and is designed to improve dietary habits and long-term health. The app is now in a randomized control trial. You can compete with yourself or others to eat more vegetables or try a three-day sprint to try to maximize the leafy greens you consume or go on a wing ding with vegetable variety. Think "you like onions? Try fennel!"

A Silicon Valley native, Mummah attended Stanford, graduating in 2010 with a bushel of awards and a degree in human biology. She then spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Oaxaca, Mexico, researching health behavior change.

At 19, Mummah founded DreamCatchers, a nonprofit after-school program for middle school students from low-income families in Palo Alto, aiming to enable all students to reach their potential. Despite Palo Alto's resource-rich school majority, 5 percent of the district's students live below the poverty line. DreamCatchers' premise is that students need both educational and healthy eating support to thrive academically, socially and physically.

Mummah spends her days in pursuit of ways to make it easier for these middle school students — and everyone else — to make big changes with bite-sized steps.

Host/interview, Lisa Van Dusen

Video, Veronica Weber

Production manager, Taylor Shoolery

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Like this comment
Posted by Sue Lehr Mitchell
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2015 at 8:05 pm

I truly commend Sarah's focus and dedication in raising the nutritional standards of the under-served children in Palo Alto. I can relate, as I am affiliated with the Siena Youth Center ("SYC"), a ground-breaking, non-profit youth gym located in the economically-challenged North Fair Oaks neighborhood of Redwood City. SYC focuses on nutrition, sports, fitness and community involvement for kids that share the same demographics as EPA...with a dose of spirituality. Programs like these transform communities: Children and parents come to know their neighbors as friends, versus rival Nortenos or Surenos, and positive, personal values are instilled from an early age--which translates into healthy food choices, overall improved grades, and life-bonding experiences. It's all about the "teach a man to fish" mentality. I am SO grateful for all who are inclined to support growth and change in our low-income communities...people like Sarah.

1 person likes this
Posted by Dreamcatchers
a resident of College Terrace
on May 11, 2015 at 9:12 pm

Dreamcatchers sounds like an amazing program. As a middle-class parent of a low-achieving PAUSD middle-schooler I only wish that there was a comparable program for Palo Alto kids whose families are not living in poverty but, nonetheless, cannot afford pricey tutors/mentors.

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Short story writers wanted!

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