The Sorter School Project

Seeking the connection between diet and behavior in troubled teens

The Sorter School Project

Does a better diet lead to better behavior? While the science indicates that it does, children in one Benton Harbor, Michigan, school will help to demonstrate the link between better mental health and a food palate that involves less sugar, preservatives, trans fats and other additives and more fish, whole grains and green leafy vegetables.


How public policy decisions affect community mental health


Lynn’s work has served to articulate how new public policies can have a direct and significant impact on the collective well-being of a community, especially when that community is vulnerable and lacking a voice in the decision-making.

About Lynn

Urban planner connects the dots between public policies and community health

About Lynn

Lynn’s work has demonstrated how public policies can impact the collective well-being of communities, especially those that lack a voice in policy decision-making.
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My Journey as a Health Equity Advocate: Reframing the Question


I grew up on the south side of Chicago in the 1960s. While the south side of the city was not affluent, it was bustling with economic activity. We had parks to play in, structurally sound houses and schools,  grocery stores, clean streets, a range of retail activity, and lots of recreational facilities. There was a general sense of community well-being.

I left Chicago in the 1970s to attend college and begin my professional career, including live and work in Europe for more than a decade during my time away from the city. I returned to the States in the late 1990s, re-locating my family back to the Chicago area. My first encounter with Chicago of the 1990s was very positive – the lakefront and surrounding areas were stunning – new stores, restaurants, housing, amenities that attract tourists from all over the country and the world. Downtown was completely revitalized. Chicago is today a shining example of successful downtown revitalization.

One sunny summer morning, I thought I would drive through some south side communities I knew as a child to see how they had fared – fully expecting a similar resurgence – though not at the same magnitude. Instead, I found that the communities had deteriorated. The vitality I remembered was gone. Empty lots, boarded houses and other structures, too many liquor stores, and not enough food stores. Other retail establishments had bars on their windows, the streets were littered with trash, and the unemployed were hanging out on street corners. Children played on treeless, concrete “playgrounds.” 

While driving and contemplating this new reality, I noted something disturbing that would later define the trajectory of my career. I came to a stoplight. At that moment, I was distracted by movement that was visible on the periphery of my vision. I turned my head in time to watch a woman pull her pants down to her ankles, squat and urinate on the sidewalk – in broad daylight. My knee jerk response was, “What is wrong with her?”

A year or so later, I began reading about the social determinants of health, and realized that mental health could be determined by a wide range of social factors. I also began to realize that the question I had asked myself that sunny summer morning was not the right question. The right question was, “What social conditions has she been exposed to? What kinds of environments has she had to navigate that have put her mental health at such serious risk?” A host of other subsidiary questions should have come to mind on that day. For instance,  “Does she have a family, shelter, food, money or support of any kind?” “Has she been emotionally, sexually, or otherwise physically abused?” The evolution in my thinking about mental health would shape my work going forward.

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Dr. Lynn Todman

Dr. Lynn Todman is an urban planner by training. She focuses on the relationship between public policy and the health of urban communities. Her current work involves investigating the relationship among urban food deserts, diet, nutrition and community violence. She is also assisting the Lakeland Regional HealthCare System in St. Joseph, Michigan, to develop a population health agenda for the region it serves and to address regional health inequities.

As founding director of the Institute on Social Exclusion at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, she oversaw the development of the Mental Health Impact Assessment (MHIA) — an innovative process for evaluating the mental health implications of legislation and policy put forth by the public sector.

Lynn has spoken and published extensively on topics related to the social determinants of health and health inequities.

Racist patients often leave doctors at a loss

October 20th, 2017|0 Comments  

Research shows racism harms physical health

September 16th, 2017|0 Comments

  ....a host of research in recent years has shown that racism, like a disease, can harm the physical health of both its victims and its perpetrators. Racism Harms Children’s Health, Survey Finds Racism [...]

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