Marilyn S. Townsend, Ph.D., R.D.

Marilyn Townsend

Position Title
Cooperative Extension Specialist Emerita

3150D Meyer Hall
  • B.A., Molecular Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • R.D., Registered Dietitian, American Dietetic Association
  • M.S., Nutrition Science, University of London (Kings College)
  • Ph.D., Nutrition, Pennsylvania State University
Research Interests

Dr. Townsend's work centers on nutrition education (research and programs) with an emphasis on children and adolescents. She is involved in theory-driven program development and implementation, nutrition educational methodologies and program evaluation. Her work also involves health behavior change strategies.

Selected Publications


Townsend MS, Shilts MK, Styne DM, Drake C, Lanoue LL, Ontai L. An obesity risk assessment tool for young children: validity with BMI and nutrient values.  J Nutr Educ Behavior. In press.

Sutter C, Ontai LL, Shilts MK, Lanoue LL, Allen LH, Townsend MS. Associations between School Readiness, Obesity- and Inflammation-related Biomarkers in Low-Income Preschoolers within the Healthy Kids Study. Mind, Brain, & Education. In press.

Shilts MK, Sitnich SL, Ontai L, Townsend MS. Guided goal setting: A feasible obesity prevention behavior change strategy for low-income parents with young children. J Human Sciences & Extension. In press.

Townsend MS, Shilts MK, Styne DM, Drake C, Lanoue L, Woodhouse L, Allen LH. Vegetable behavioral tool demonstrates validity with MyPlate vegetable cups and carotenoid and inflammatory biomarkers. Appetite, 2016;107:628-638. [PubMed]

Sutter C, Ontai L, Nishina A, Conger KJ, Shilts MK, Townsend MS. Utilizing the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP) as a Measure of School Readiness: Evaluating Factor Structure and Predictors of School Readiness. Early Child Development and Care. 2016. [Journal]

Ontai L, Sitnick S, Shilts MK, Townsend MS. My child at mealtime: A visually enhanced self-assessment of feeding styles for low-income parents of preschoolers. Appetite 2016; 99:76-81. [PubMed]

Banna J, Fialkowski M, Townsend MS. Misreporting of dietary intake in low-income Spanish-speaking women and its effects on estimated nutrient intake. J Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. 2015;115:1124-1133. [PubMed]

Mullins J, Chapman-Novakofski K, Franck K, Olson B, Serrano E, Townsend MS, Wong SS. Food and Nutrition Extension Programs: Next Generation Impact evaluation. J Extension, 2015; 8.

Shilts MK, Johns MC, Lamp C, Schneider C, Townsend MS. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Customizing MyPlate for Low-Literate, Low-Income Families in 4 Steps. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2015 July-Aug;47(4):394-6. [PubMed]

Keim N, Casey S, Marika L, Aaron G, Townsend MS. Vegetable variety: Consuming a variety of vegetables improves overall diet quality in low-income women. J Academy of Nutrition Dietetics 2014;114:430-435. 

Sitnick SL, Ontai L, Townsend MS. What Parents Really Think about Their Feeding Practices and Behaviors: Lessons Learned from the Development of a Parental Feeding Assessment Tool. J Human Sciences & Extension. 2014; 2 (2): 84-92. [Article]

Townsend MS, Shilts MK, Sylva K, Davidson C, Leavens, Sitnick S, Ontai L. Obesity Risk for Young Children: Development and initial validation of an assessment tool participants of USDA programs. Forum For Family and Consumer Issues. 2014. Vol. 19, No.3. [Article]

Townsend MS, Ganthavorn C, Neelon M, Donohue S, Johns MC. Improving the quality of data from EFNEP participants with low literacy skills: a participant-driven model. Journal of nutrition education and behavior. 2014 Jul-Aug;46:309-14. [PubMed]

Banna JC, Fialkowski MK, Townsend MS. Misreporting of Dietary Intake Affects Estimated Nutrient Intakes in Low-Income Spanish-Speaking Women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014 Aug 12. [PubMed]

Keim NL, Forester SM, Lyly M, Aaron GJ, Townsend MS. Vegetable Variety Is a Key to Improved Diet Quality in Low-Income Women in California. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2013; S2212-2672(13)01182-9. [PubMed]

Aaron GJ, Keim NL, Drewnowski A, Townsend MS. Estimating dietary costs of low-income women in California: a comparison of 2 approaches. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2013;97(4):835-41. [PubMed]

Banna JC, Kaiser LL, Drake C, Townsend MS. Acculturation, physical activity and television viewing in Hispanic women: findings from the 2005 California Women's Health Survey. Public health nutrition 2012;15(2):198-207. [PubMed]

Townsend MS. Patient-driven education materials: low-literate adults increase understanding of health messages and improve compliance. Nurs Clin North Am. 2011 Sep;46(3):367-78, vii-viii. [PubMed]

Banna JC, Kaiser LL, Drake C, Townsend MS. Acculturation, physical activity and television viewing in Hispanic women: findings from the 2005 California Women's Health Survey. Public Health Nutr. 2011;Jul 28:1-10.  [PubMed]

Banna J, Townsend MS. Assessing factorial and convergent validity and reliability of a food behavior checklist for Spanishspeaking participants in USDA nutrition education programs. Public Health Nutrition. 2011;Feb 22:1-12. [PubMed]

Chaidez V, Townsend MS, Kaiser LL. Toddler-Feeding Practices among Mexican American Mothers: A Qualitative Study.Appetite. 2011; 56:629-632. [PubMed]

Serrano E, McFerren M, Lambur M, Ellerbock M, Hosig K, Franz N, Townsend MS, Baker S, Muenning P, Davis G. Cost- Effectiveness Model for Youth EFNEP Programs: what do we measure and how do we do it? J Nutrition Educ Behav. 2011 Jul-Aug;43(4):295-302. [PubMed]

Johns M, Townsend MS. Client-driven tools: Improving evaluation for low-literate adults and teens while capturing better outcomes. Forum Family and Consumer Issues. 2010 v15(3).

Townsend MS. Where is the science? What will it take to show nutrient profiling systems work? Am J Clinical Nutrition 2010; 91: 1109S-1115S. [PubMed]

Shilts MK, Martin AC, Townsend MS. Dose: Comparison of 6 and 12 Nutrition and Physical Activity Sessions Targeting Middle School Adolescents. J Youth Development: Bridging Research and Practice. Feature Article. Winter issue, 2010.

Banna JC, Vera Becerra LE, Kaiser LL, Townsend MS. Assessing face validity of a food behavior checklist for Spanish-speaking women in California. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110:80-90. [PubMed]

Townsend MS, Keim N, Kuyper EM, Smith D, Lamp C, Martin A, Metz D, Kaiser LL. Mothers’ perceptions of portion size: Are they fueling the child obesity epidemic? Forum for Family and Consumer Issues. 2009; v 14 (2).

Drewnowski A, Monsivais P, Townsend MS, Aaron GJ, Keim NL. Letter to the Editor—Rebuttal to letter by Dr. Elizabeth Frazao: Less-energy-dense diets of low-income women in California are associated with higher energy-adjusted diet costs. Am J Clinical Nutrition 2009;89.

Townsend MS, Aaron GJ, Monsivais P, Keim NL, Drewnowski A. Less-energy-dense diets of low-income women in California are associated with higher energy-adjusted diet costs. Am J Clinical Nutrition 2009;89:1220–1226. [PubMed]

Townsend MS, Melgar-Quinonez H, Hudes M, Crawford P. How Well Do Parents in the United States Report Heights and Weights for Children? International Public Health Journal 2009;1(1): 41-49.

Townsend MS, Young T, Ontai L, Ritchie L, Williams ST. Guiding family-based obesity prevention efforts in low-income children in the United States: Part 2 −What behaviors do we measure? Intl J Child Adoles Health. 2009; Vol 2 (1): 31-48.

Ontai L, Ritchie L, Williams ST, Young T, Townsend MS. Guiding family-based obesity prevention efforts in low-income children in the US: Part 1− What determinants do we target? International J Child Adolescent Health. 2009; Vol 2 (1): 19-30.

Shilts M, Lamp C, Horowitz M, Townsend MS. Pilot study: Eatfit Improves 6th Graders' Academic Performance on Standardized Math and English Tests. J Nutrition Educ Behavior. 2009; 41: 127-131.

Shilts MK, Horowitz M, Townsend MS. Effectiveness of guided goal setting in a dietary and physical activity intervention with low-income adolescents. Int J Adolesc Med Health: 2009;20(1):111-122. [PubMed]

Horowitz M, Shilts M, Lamp C, Townsend MS. A standards-driven evaluation of academic performance: an 8-step process for nutrition educators. J Nutrition Educ Behavior 2008:40:401-403. [PubMed]

Julian M. Alston, Conner C. Mullally, Daniel A. Sumner, Marilyn Townsend, and Stephen A. Vosti. Likely Effects on Obesity from Proposed Changes to the U.S. Food Stamp Program. Food Policy (2008), doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2008.10.013.

Townsend MS, Sylva K, Martin A, Metz D, Wooten Swanson P. Improving readability of an evaluation tool for low-income clients using visual information processing theories. J Nutrition Education Behavior 2008;40:181-186. [PubMed]

Shilts M, Smith D, Ontai L, Townsend MS. Evidence to support the use of the retrospective pretest method to measure dietary behavior and self-efficacy in adolescents. J Youth Development 2008;3(1):article 080301RS002.

Mullally C, Alston JM, Sumner D, Townsend MS, Vosti SA. Proposed Modifications to the Food Stamp Program: Likely Effects and their Policy Implications (Book chap). In: Obesity: Causes, Mechanisms &Prevention. Elliott Blass, Ed. Sinauer Assoc, Sunderland, MA. 2008; Chap11, pp. 319-370.

Townsend MS, Kaiser LL. Brief psychosocial fruit and vegetable tool is sensitive for United States Department of Agriculture’s nutrition education programs. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107:2120-2124. [PubMed]

Crawford PB, Lamp C, Nicholson Y, Krathwohl S, Townsend MS. Food insecurity may be linked to childhood obesity in low-income Mexican-American families. California Agriculture 2007; 61(3):106-111.

Kuyper EM, Espinosa-Hall GB, Lamp CL, Martin AC, Metz DM, Smith D, Townsend MS, Kaiser LL. Development of a tool to assess past food insecurity of immigrant Latino mothers. J Nutr Educ Behav 2006;38:378-382. [PubMed]

Townsend MS, Johns M, Shilts MK, Farfan-Ramirez L. Evaluation of a USDA Nutrition Education Program for Low-income Youth. J Nutrition Educ Behavior. 2006;38:30-41. [PubMed]

Townsend MS. Obesity in low-income communities: Prevalence, effects, a place to begin. J Am Diet Assoc.2006;106(1):34-37. [PubMed]

Diana Cassady, Marilyn Townsend, Robert A Bell, Mitchell Watnik. Portrayals of branded soft drinks in popular American movies: a content analysis. Intern J Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity 2006;3:4 (09 Mar 2006).

Townsend MS. Evaluating Food Stamp Nutrition Education: Process for development and validation of evaluation measures. J Nutrition Educ Behavior. 2006; 38 (1):18-24. [PubMed]

Townsend MS, Fulgoni VL, Stern JS, McCarron DA. Blood Pressure---Importance of Salt Intake. Am J Hypertension 2005;18: 1258-61. [PubMed]

Blackburn ML, Townsend MS, Kaiser LL, Martin AC, West EA, Turner B, Joy AB. Food behavior checklist effectively evaluates nutrition education. California Agriculture 2006; 60(1): 20-24.

Kaiser LL, Townsend MS. Food Insecurity among US Children: Implications for Nutrition and Health. Topics in Clinical Nutrition. 2005;20(4): 313-320.

Townsend MS, Kaiser LL. Development of an evaluation tool to assess psychosocial indicators of fruit and vegetable intake for two federal programs. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2005;l37:170-84. [PubMed]

Townsend MS, Fulgoni V, Stern J, Adu-Afarwuah S, McCarron D. Low Mineral Intake is Associated with High Systolic Blood Pressure in NHANES III and IV: Could We All Be Right? Am J Hypertension. 2005;18:261-269. [PubMed]

Horowitz M, Shilts M, Townsend MS. Adapting a Diet Analysis Application for an Adolescent Audience. J Nutrition Educ Behavior. 2005;37:43-44.

Bell R, Berger C, Cassady D, Townsend MS. Portrayals of Food Practices and Exercise Behavior In Popular American Films. J Nutrition Education & Behavior. 2005;37:27-32. [PubMed]

Kaiser LL, Townsend MS, Melgar-Quinonez HR, Fujii ML, Crawford PB. Choice of instrument influences relationship between food insecurity and obesity in Latino women. Amer J Clinical Nutrition. 2004;80:1372-1378. [PubMed]

Shilts M, Horowitz M, Townsend MS. Goal Setting as a Strategy for Dietary and Physical Activity Behavior Change: A Review of the Literature. American Journal Health Promotion 2004; 19:81-93. [PubMed]

Shilts M, Horowitz M, Townsend MS. An Innovative Approach to Goal Setting for Adolescents: Guided Goal Setting. J Nutrition Education & Behavior. 2004; 36:155-156. [PubMed]

Crawford P, Townsend MS, Metz DL, Smith D, Espinosa-Hall G, Donohue SS, Sutherland B, Olivares A, Kaiser LL. How can Californians be overweight and hungry? California Agriculture. 2004;58:12-17.

Kaiser LL, Martin A, Metz D, Nicholson Y, Fujii M, Lamp C, Townsend MS, Crawford P, Melgar-Quinonez H. Food insecurity prominent among low-income California Latinos. Calif Agriculture 2004;58:18-23.

Horowitz M, Shilts M, Townsend MS. Eatfit: A goal oriented intervention that challenges adolescents to improve their eating and fitness choices. J Nutrition Education & Behavior. 2004;36:43-44. [PubMed]

Townsend MS, Nitzke S, Contento I, McClelland J, Keenan D, Brown G. A theory-driven workshop increased educators’ intention to use theory in designing programs. J Nutrition Education & Behavior. 2003;35:312-318. [PubMed]

Townsend MS, Kaiser LL, Allen LH, Joy AB, Murphy SP. 2003 Selecting items for a food behavior checklist for a limited resource audience. J Nutr Educ Behav.2003;35: 69-82. [PubMed]

Kaiser LL, Melgar-Quiñonez HR, Townsend MS, et al. Food insecurity & food supplies in Latino households with young children. J Nutrition Educ Behav 2003;35: 148-153. [PubMed]

Kaiser LL, Townsend MS, West EA, et al. Focus groups show need for diabetes education among African Amer adults. Calif Agri 2002;56 (4): 139-143.

Murphy S, Kaiser LL, Townsend MS, Allen L. Evaluation of Validity of Items in a Food Behavior Checklist. J Am Diet Assoc. 101:751-756, 761, 2001. [PubMed]

Townsend MS, Love B, Achterberg C, Murphy S. Food Insecurity is Positively Related to Overweight in Women. J. Nutrition, 131:1738-1745, 2001. [PubMed]


Banna J, Townsend MS, Sylva K. University of California Cooperative Extension Lista de habitos alimenticios (Food behavior checklist. UC Davis, 2010. (Spanish, 22-items reflecting both MyPyramid & Food Guide Pyramid Guidance Systems and results of face, factorial & convergent validation study; 6-page booklet designed for clients with limited literacy skills.

Townsend MS, Sylva K, Davidson C, Leavens L, Sitnick S. Healthy Kids: a Pediatric Obesity Prevention Risk Assessment Tool. Based on our research published in our 2 journal papers. Accessed at on April 30, 2009.

Ontai L, Stitnick S, Sylva K, Leavens L, Davidson C, Townsend MS. My Child at meal Time (a parenting tool to assess risky behaviors around child feeding). Based on our research published in our 2 journal papers. 2009. Accessed at on 4.30.2009.

Davidson C, Leavens L, Townsend MS. Walkfit. Student magazine, 16 pages. Instruction manual designed for the teacher or leader conducting the program. 6 lessons. 30 pages. Designed for low-income youth in middle schools in California. 2008. UC ANR Publications.

Banna J, Townsend MS, Sylva K. UC Cooperative Extension Lista de frutas y verdura. Public Health Institute, California Department of Health & University of California Davis 2010. [Spanish, 9-item scale reflecting the MyPyramid and Food Guide Pyramid Guidance Systems and results of face, factorial & convergent validation study; fruit and vegetable checklist in 2-page format designed for clients with limited literacy skills.]

Banna J, Townsend MS. University of California On the Go! De Prisa [Physical activity (PA) assessment for low-income communities]. UCCE, 2006. [English and Spanish, 19-item 12-page evaluation tool for low-income clients. Contains 5 constructs: transport PA; at home PA; spare time PA; sitting at home; and at work PA. Available at

Townsend MS, Kaiser LL. University of California Fruit and Vegetable Inventory. UCCE, 2006. (English, 13-item 2-page evaluation tool for low-income clients. Contains 6 constructs: perceived benefits to eating fruit & vegetables; perceived control; self-efficacy; readiness to eat more fruit; readiness to eat more vegetables; perceived diet quality.) Available at