Federal Faces: Sarah A. Chang

July 8, 2013

Name: Sarah A. Chang

Position: Nutritionist, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion

Best known for: Chang was instrumental in developing an innovative way to assist those struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle — a free, Internet-based food and physical activity application called SuperTracker, which provides customized nutrition guidance for those trying to make smarter choices.

The SuperTracker’s features include a food tracker, a physical activity tracker, a weight manager and a Food-A-Pedia, which contains about 9,000 items that have been analyzed by the USDA for nutritional content. Individuals interested in learning about nutrients in food or the ­calorie-burning levels of various forms of exercise can personalize their experience at the Web site by setting goals for themselves and seeing how they stack up against the government’s dietary and physical activity guidelines.

Users can gauge their progress from simple charts or comprehensive reports produced for them, based on what they enter about their daily food and activity choices. Personalized nutrition and physical activity might include setting a goal for weight loss or increasing the amount of vegetables consumed each week. SuperTracker also provides the user with tips for meeting those goals. Since its launch in December 2011, the number of registered SuperTracker users has topped 2.5 million people. Chang used her knowledge of nutrition and exercise to help develop the tracker and became well-versed in the technology, frequently communicating with programmers, trouble-shooting glitches. She continues to review customer feedback to develop enhancements. The USDA is working on a Super-Tracker mobile app, Chang said.

Government work: Chang has been a nutritionist at the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion since November 2009.

Motivation for service: While studying food and nutrition in college, Chang decided she wanted her life’s work to involve teaching others about food and nutrition. “Knowing where food comes from and how the body uses it is empowering. Sharing that feeling with others has become my major purpose,” she said.

Biggest challenge: SuperTracker was developed by a multidisciplinary team of nutrition, programming and design experts. Each brought valuable expertise to the table, but all had to learn how to speak the same language and work together to effectively communicate nutrition guidance using innovative technology.

Quote: “My favorite thing about my job is hearing from SuperTracker users telling us they lost weight, or they are eating more fruits and vegetables or, best of all, because of SuperTracker, they are feeling motivated and empowered to make positive behavior changes. Those e-mails bring tears to my eyes because, from the very beginning, that’s what this whole project has been about.”

— From the Partnership
for Public Service

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