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Portrait of Obesity Policy

While at UC Davis, Rajiv Narayan ’12 lost weight and gained his life’s passion.

While many college students gain weight — commonly dubbed “The Freshman 15” — during their first year of school, Narayan is an exception; he lost 80 pounds his freshman year at UC Davis. The weight loss not only improved his health, but also ignited a passion for obesity research and policy.

“When I lost the weight, at first I wanted to discover what was it about obesity that got me for 18 years,” Narayan said. “I became interested in exploring not just the nutritional aspect of obesity, but the socio-economic, psychological and policy decision-making factors behind obesity. Then I stopped thinking about obesity as my own struggle, and started thinking about it as an experience of whole populations.”

Narayan started working on several initiatives at UC Davis — with both national and international implications — exploring the multi-faceted dimensions of obesity and obesity prevention policy.

On campus, he created and taught a course to 35 fellow undergraduates on the social theory of eating disorders and body image; he became a columnist for the student newspaper, The California Aggie, writing about weight and college life; and he connected with nutrition professor Judith Stern, co-founder of the American Obesity Association, who encouraged Narayan to conduct obesity research on his own.

Narayan then interned at the California state capitol working on health policy, he spent a summer working on an urban farm in Milwaukee, and he organized a national health policy conference in Raleigh, N.C. Narayan also went to Buenos Aires, Argentina to research obesity and obesity policy in that country — later formalizing his research, which was published and that Stern presented on Narayan’s behalf at the 2010 International Congress on Obesity Annual Meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.

“I used to limit my ambitions because I felt like good students were passive learners. A crucial part of my education at UC Davis has been professors and staff who have challenged me to go out and make contributions to the world in spite of my youth,” said Narayan, who currently has a 3.95 GPA. “They expanded my horizons of what I thought possible as an undergrad.”

In addition to receiving encouragement from fellow students, administrators and professors, Narayan said the philanthropic support he has received throughout his time at UC Davis has been integral to the pursuit of his passions. Narayan has received the Lillian D. Wells Scholarship, the Rotary Foundation’s Global Grant Scholarship and a UC Regents Scholarship.

“Scholarships allow me to pursue my goals without me having to restrict myself,” said Narayan, whose ambition is to study medical anthropology at the University of Oxford through a Rhodes Scholarship. “There are so many opportunities I would not have been able to take up without the freedom scholarships gave me.”