Medical Professor Serves as Public Health Advocate for Children’s Well-Being


Dr. Rebecca Scherr believes in creating better environments through healthier school lunches, smoke- and vape-free parks, and areas around the city that offer physical activities.

Lory Flanagan, a registered dietician with the Clark County School District (CCSD), was on the phone discussing regulation of the snacks and beverages allowed for students during the school day. She was listening especially to how UNLV Health physician Dr. Rebecca Scherr advocated before public entities for adoption of the regulation to help fight childhood obesity.

“She did it the right way,” Flanagan said. “So many people just call to complain.”

Make no mistake: Scherr, an associate professor of pediatrics and section chief of pediatric gastroenterology for the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, is not one to simply whine when it comes to public health. Her prevailing philosophy is clear:

“Doctors play a vital role in influencing and empowering public health. Their expertise allows them to educate the community on preventive measures, like lifestyle choices. By actively engaging in public health initiatives, doctors can address health disparities, promote vaccination, and contribute to community well-being. Their influence should extend beyond individual patient care to creating a healthier society through advocacy, education, and collaboration with public health organizations.”

For the last decade, often working as a public health advocate through the American Heart Association, she has either testified before federal, state and local governmental bodies or provided them with written outreach on health issues both informative and persuasive – as well as straightforward.

Consider her 2014 communication on the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and the Nevada Student Wellness Policy with the late Harry Reid, the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader:

“When the Senate returns in November, please make it a priority that no further detrimental language is included in the agricultural appropriations bill. While the current Senate language is harmful and would cause a step backward in protecting children’s health, the House language is significantly worse. Therefore, the Senate needs to start strong to negotiate effectively with the House.”

“I hate to see good health care legislation get watered down at all,” says Scherr, who admits she sometimes finds the constant give and take of negotiations between public health and private enterprise representatives on health issues difficult to take. “But then I talk to my husband (an emergency room physician) and he reminds me that if we’re moving forward, even if it’s just one person at a time, we’re helping people’s quality of life.”

Dietician Flanagan says schoolchildren at CCSD are far better off now because of the work of public health advocates, even if compromises were made in passing legislation for lunches, snacks, and beverages. “We’re basically not offering processed food to children at lunch, for instance, which is far more healthy.” Vegetables and fruit are available. Candy and soda are out as snacks sold during the school day.

No one will ever accuse Scherr of not finding a venue to help advocate for an improvement in the public health arena. It wasn’t that long ago when she went before county commissioners as president of the Las Vegas American Heart Association Board of Directors to support the Regional Transportation Committee’s Complete Streets Policy update:

“Environments that are safe and built with walking, biking, and other physical activities in mind are correlated with lower-body weights and reduced cardiovascular disease. Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle puts people at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and premature death … Working together we can drastically reduce accidental deaths and chronic disease, creating a healthier and more appealing Southern Nevada.”

While there are those who say “laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them made,” Scherr believes you have to help make them to ensure the best possible public health positions are included in new laws.

That’s why she went before Las Vegas City Council to support legislation for smoke- and vape-free parks:

“Secondhand tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths yearly across our nation. Studies show that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25-30 percent higher among people exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home or work. Secondhand smoke promotes illness, too. Children of smokers have many more respiratory infections than do children of nonsmokers … There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Our kids should be able to play at our local parks without being exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke and other dangerous toxins.”

A Las Vegas native, Scherr says being a pediatric patient of Dr. Beverly Neyland, who’s now on faculty at the medical school, helped her decide as a little girl to be a physician.

“I liked the way she worked with, and cared about, children,” says the daughter of a kindergarten teacher who is a proud UNLV alumna.

After attending UNLV for undergraduate work and the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Scherr did her residency in pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta, where she also completed a fellowship in pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. She has practiced in Las Vegas since 2010, joining the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV when it opened in 2017. Her advocacy work through the American Heart Association began in 2014.

Pediatric gastroenterology piqued her interest because it includes many pediatric issues, including nutrition, growth, and development while also combining a clinic opportunity and its wide array of patients, with the ability to do procedures and also spend time in the inpatient hospital setting.

“I also had a personal experience with the field of gastroenterology. My husband was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. During our first year of marriage, while we were both in medical school, medical treatments failed and surgery became the only option. Because of this experience, I understand many of the emotional needs of patients with gastrointestinal disorders. I am able to use this experience while caring for patients, as I can empathize and share personal experience with patients and their families.”

For three years, she was the only pediatric gastroenterologist on call for University Medical Center. The emergency room became very familiar with her patients, particularly those with inflammatory bowel disease, who had Scherr’s cell phone number to call as they were on the way to the ER.

“That was a very busy time,” the pediatric gastroenterologist says.

While practicing as a physician, Scherr also earned a Master of Public Health at UNLV in 2015: “I started being very interested in social and behavioral health … I found a passion for health advocacy. I met many people who shared a mindset. This led me to become heavily involved in the Nevada chapter of the American Heart Association, which has a huge investment in the prevention of disease.”

She also became a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Wellness and Prevention of Chronic Disease.

“I know that I make a difference in individual patient lives, but I also see how their environment plays an even bigger role. I want my city to provide all children with a healthy environment by decreasing food deserts, increasing safety and walkability, and making the school environment as healthy as possible.”

Scherr’s major focus is reducing childhood obesity. Nationally, one in three children are now obese or overweight. The problem continues to grow, increasing a child’s risk for serious and chronic medical problems, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, orthopaedic problems, liver disease and some cancers.

“We must work hard,” she says, “to ensure that Nevada’s children do not become part of the unhealthiest generation in American history.”