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Young girls wearing backpacks smiling in a photo together. Two are wearing bike helmets. Part of the center's STREETS (mobility) and TX SPAN (statewide childhood obesity surveillance) projects.

Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living Drives Community Change  

The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living is an academic and research institution focused on creating the tools and spaces communities need to make healthier choices.

Organization Info

Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living



Organization Lead

Deanna M. Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D.N., L.D., C.N.S., F.I.S.B.N.P.A

Foundation Lead

Aliya Hussaini, M.D., MSc

Comprised of nearly 60 public health researchers and staff from the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Austin, the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living drives resources and programs children and families need to live healthier lives.  

Since its inception, the Center has: 

  • Impacted nearly 10 million children and families through research and health programs
  • Brought in more than $90 million in research grants 
  • Educated more than 650 Masters of Public Health and doctoral-level students at the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Austin 
  • Selected 10 undergraduates to participate in the Dell Health Undergraduate Scholar program 

Advancing Health in Our Communities

We need the work of public health professionals — individuals behind the scenes ensuring communities have access to health care information, affordable and nutritious food, opportunities for exercise, and compassionate providers – to create a healthy and safe population. Because when communities have these things, healthy choices don’t just become easier — they can become the norm.      

To work toward its vision of healthy children in a healthy world, the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living is building a bridge between health and our communities. As part of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Austin, the Center supports children and families in Central Texas by:   

  • Creating, evaluating, and strengthening public health programs, policies, and spaces 
  • Investing in research for and relationships with key decision-makers
  • Educating and empowering the next generation of public health professionals 
MSD Center staff posing in cap and gown with a public health graduate from the University of Texas.
Center staff and UTHealth Houston faculty celebrate their students’ achievements during a ceremony held at the University of Texas at Austin. Throughout the program, Center staff like Dr. Alexandra van den Berg (left) sponsor public health graduate and doctorate students, guiding and advising them in their educational goals.

Creating Strong Public Health Programs and Resources

The Center utilizes current science and its research expertise to create and evaluate school and community programs on topics affecting residents, like:  

  • Youth obesity and food insecurity
  • Tobacco prevention 
  • Physical activity promotion 
  • Mental, maternal, and child health  

Center researchers created the Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH), a school and childcare-based program that promotes physical activity and healthy food choices. Upon evaluation, researchers found that obesity was lower in schools that implemented the program with community involvement than in those that did not. This led to an impact far beyond Texas through the formation of the CATCH Global Foundation, with initiatives now active in all 50 states and abroad.  

Through partnerships with city and state entities, the Center also evaluates existing community programs to ensure they are as effective as possible using data, analytics, and community feedback. One example is the Center’s work with Texas CORD, a project designed to evaluate pediatric obesity prevention and weight maintenance programs in Austin and Houston.  

In addition to working with organizations, the Center is a trusted resource for residents – developing tips and tools on topics like nutrition, screen time, and sleep quality – and distributes this content on an ongoing basis. 


The Center acts as an ongoing resource for communities, hosting webinars on timely topics like heat safety and childhood nutrition.

Watch a Webinar: How Extreme Heat Impacts Physical Activity

Investing in Research to Inform Policymakers

The Center creates relationships between key decision-makers who need information and the researchers who can provide it, helping remove barriers to health for children and families on a systemic level.

For example – policymakers shared that food insecurity and food assistance programs were a priority and asked for help, so Center researchers compiled and delivered community data reports on a variety of related topics. The Center’s research was also vital in providing local data and resources for policies, including improved access for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients with disabilities.

The Center also examines the impact and equity of current policies. The team is currently evaluating a 2016 municipal mobility bond that created infrastructure for children to safely and actively commute to school – protected bike lanes, pedestrian islands, and shared-use paths for Safe Routes to School programs.

Guest speaker Dr. Marlene Schwartz discusses the importance of public health nutrition research to guide policymakers with central Texas community partners at the annual Michael & Susan Dell Center Lectureship in Child Health.

Educating and Empowering the Next Generation 

The Center recruits and trains future public health professionals through its innovative dual degree programs in conjunction with other departments at the University of Texas at Austin and Dell Medical School.

Aimed at increasing the diversity of the public health workforce, the Dell Health Undergraduate Scholar (DHUS) program annually awards one undergraduate student studying at an Austin-area college with an in-depth training opportunity. The DHUS receives guidance and mentorship from Center faculty on a research opportunity that aligns with their public health interests in areas like nutrition, physical activity, and obesity prevention.

Meet Aaron

Aaron’s experiences with sports injuries sparked his interest in nutrition, biomechanics, and how one’s whole health could affect their ability to heal. As the 2022 DHUS, Aaron assisted the Center with research and writing on topics like the pivotal role of historically Black colleges in our economy. “Public health is a society admitting that there might be a problem with the way we’re doing things,” Aaron explains,and figuring out what ways we can solve these problems, and how they overlap.” Aaron is currently studying how physical literacy – how one can communicate with one’s own body – overlaps with mental health.

Looking Ahead 

As Central Texas grows and changes, the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living is meeting new and emerging public health needs by expanding training, researching and addressing common concerns like youth vaping prevention, and acting as a community resource. 

While these goals evolve, the Center remains focused on achieving its vision for healthy children in a healthy world – one where all Central Texans can access healthy choices.