One by one, attendees of the Triangle Global Health Consortium’s awards ceremony stood from their chairs applauding and cheering for Margaret “Peggy” Bentley, who was honored as the 2017 Global Health Champion on Tuesday evening, May 2.
Bentley, who is the founding board director of the Triangle Global Health Consortium, juggles many high level roles at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition and the assistant dean for global health in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. She is also the associate director for education in the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. Her research focus of women and children’s nutrition has led her to conduct studies around the state as well as in Asia, Africa and South America.
“Winning this award is the capstone of my career,” she said during her acceptance speech.
Building a Career in Nutrition
Upon graduation from high school, Bentley took a break from academics to travel. She worked as a cook on a sailboat in the Caribbean, as a secretary on Wall Street, as a chambermaid in Utah and as a cocktail waitress in California. She returned to school in her early 20s, studying human society and world food issues at Michigan State University. Bentley graduated, married and bought a farm complete with seven cows.
She then began reading the works of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, which further sparked her interest in nutrition and anthropology. She moved to Connecticut, earning both her master’s and her doctoral degrees in anthropology. Bentley wanted to explore the relationship between infection and nutrition. Moving to New Delhi, India with her family provided her with the opportunity to investigate the household management of childhood diarrhea for her doctoral dissertation.
Word of her research in India caught the eye of the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. She received a cable offering her a job as a research associate, allowing her to work on the dietary management of diarrhea in Peru and Nigeria.
“Peggy has changed the perception of global health,” said Gillings dean Barbara Rimer. “She has shown the deep connection between local and global health right here in our state. I am thrilled she has been honored as a champion because she is a champion and an asset to the Triangle and the consortium.”
Local is Global
In 1998, Bentley left Johns Hopkins, heading south for a position in the Department of Nutrition at Gillings. At UNC, she has continued her research on women and infants’ nutrition, infant and young child feeding, HIV and breastfeeding, and community-based interventions for improving growth and development of young children. Her work has taken her to UNC Project-Malawi and the Galapagos Science Center.
Bentley has balanced a robust research career with teaching and mentoring countless students at Gillings. One of her mentees, Naya Villarreal, attended the awards ceremony.
“Peggy wrote me an email five years ago, offering me a position,” said Villarreal, program coordinator for the Gillings Global Gateway. “It was the best decision I’ve made and I can’t thank you enough for your mentorship.”