What was Toben Nelson, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who studies the health risks of alcohol abuse and obesity, doing this summer lugging around a heavy equipment bag after work? Giving back to his community. Nelson volunteered as a coach for the Roseville Raiders, a 13-year-old-and-under traveling baseball team that just wrapped up its season by winning the prestigious Gopher State Tournament of Champions in their age group.
In the fall, Nelson will gear up for hoops as the volunteer president of the Roseville Youth Basketball Association, which provides an opportunity for kids in this Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb to take part in organized sports. Nelson says volunteering grounds him as a scientist. It reminds him every single day that his NIH-supported research back at the office affects real lives and benefits real communities like his own.
Nelson is currently studying strategies to prevent alcohol-related injuries and violence. He also works on projects to promote physical activity and prevent childhood obesity. Over the years, he and his colleagues have collected a lot of data on teens and young adults, and they know a tremendous amount about their health status, their behaviors and their risks for excessive drinking or becoming overweight. Still, what’s often missing is a connection to the real faces and unique personalities of young people navigating these formative years.
So Nelson downregulates the keen analytical side of his brain on most evenings around 5:30 p.m.