Julie A. Mares, PhD, MSPH
Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Nutritional Sciences; Graduate Program in Population Health; Institute on Aging
B.S. 1976, University of Illinois- Champaign-Urbana
M.S.P.H. 1980, University of Illinois, School of Public Health- Chicago
Ph.D. 1987, Nutritional Sciences. University of Wisconsin-Madison
Our Diet and Eye Health Team conducts research, teaching and community outreach directed toward improving relationships between food and health that supports healthy vision. We focus on eye health in older age, but are interested in approaches that sustainably contribute to overall general health and well-being of individuals of all ages and the communities in which we live.
The primary goal of our research is to evaluate relationships of diet and nutritional status to the onset and progression of eye diseases that become common in old age: cataract, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. We conduct studies in large population groups using epidemiological techniques in which foods eaten and lifestyles are compared in people whose eye photographs indicate that early stages of these conditions are present or absent.
We evaluate many interrelated aspects of diet and healthy lifestyles. In some studies, we use a non-invasive flicker photometry test to evaluate levels of plant pigments (the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin) that accumulate in eye tissues and comprise macular pigment. We measure blood levels of vitamin D which reflects vitamin D from both diet and sunlight exposure.
We currently focus on understanding broader aspects of diet and lifestyle that may promote health as we age. We collect extensive information about foods eaten, pills taken and other related aspects of lifestyle such as physical activity. We score responses for adherence to several nutrient-rich diet patterns and healthy lifestyles and study relationships of these to eye health across different groups of people.