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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

ODS Nutritional Epidemiologist Potischman Retires

Dr. Nancy Potischman

Dr. Nancy Potischman

After 34 years at NIH, Dr. Nancy Potischman retired on Apr. 30. Since 2016, Potischman, a nutritional epidemiologist, directed the Population Studies Program at the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). She studied U.S. survey data to evaluate dietary supplement use and its associated health effects. She also promoted research on methodological issues in assessing diet and supplement intakes.

“Every conversation with Nancy was a delightful learning experience for me,” said Dr. Joseph Betz, ODS acting director emeritus, describing Potischman as a wonderful person and dedicated public servant who contributed greatly to the ODS mission. “She did much to fill in the gaps in my understanding of both epidemiology and basic nutrition. Her work in leading the ODS Population Studies Program went a long way toward identifying knowledge gaps in basic nutrition and she was instrumental in the work required to fill those gaps.”

Potischman first came to NIH as a fellow in the Cancer Epidemiology and Biostatistics Training Program in 1989 and spent 26 years working at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) on cervical, endometrial and breast cancers. 

After a brief stint as an associate professor in the department of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, she returned to NCI and remained until 2015. Career highlights include work on a large epidemiologic study of diet and premenopausal breast cancer that provided evidence of possible bias related to post-diagnosis influences, in particular the over-reporting of food intake by patients undergoing chemotherapy. 

Potischman also collaborated on an endometrial cancer study that used anthropometric data, including weight, height and body mass index, from centers across the U.S. and explored other risk factors. 

In addition, she collected distant-past food intake data and worked with radiation dosimetrists to measure diet-related radiation exposure following nuclear testing in the 1940s to 1960s in Kazakhstan and in the 1940s and 1950s in New Mexico.

Potischman devoted years to studying early origins of cancers and wrote several book chapters on life course epidemiology. She evaluated factors associated with differences in biomarkers for foods and hormones across populations, worked with a cognitive psychologist to update and improve the validity of the food frequency questionnaire and worked on several iterations of NCI’s Automated Self-Administered Dietary Assessment Tool.

At ODS, Potischman studied dietary supplement use data among various U.S. populations. She reported, for example, that use of dietary supplements containing iodine among pregnant and lactating women and use of vitamin D and iron supplements among exclusively breastfed infants are below current recommendations, and that most older adults take multiple micronutrient and botanical supplements.

Potischman was an annual lecturer for training fellows in cancer prevention in the Principles and Practice of Cancer Prevention and Control course at NCI’s Division of Cancer Prevention. She also developed and taught graduate courses at UMass Amherst and lectured at George Washington University. 

Potischman has held leadership positions on scores of committees, boards, working groups, panels, teams, consortia and workshops. She has given many lectures and presentations, was an associate editor for the American Journal of Epidemiology and was a reviewer for more than a dozen professional journals. She has published six book chapters and nearly 200 articles, many of which are available on the ODS Staff Publications web page:

Potischman reviewed proposals for NCI’s Gynecologic Oncology Group and collaborates with the CDC’s Infant Feeding Research Study, for which she developed a food frequency questionnaire for pregnancy and lactation. She is a member of the International Childhood Cancer Cohort Consortium and is working on a follow-up study of a cohort in China. 

Potischman received her B.S. in biochemistry from UMass Amherst and her Ph.D. in nutritional sciences from Cornell University.

She now works part-time as a consultant on ODS projects, including those focused on folate, and enjoys having more time to travel and visit family. 

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