Athletes & Academics
Dancing in Rhythm
NEW PROGRAM COMBINES DIET AND SCIENCE TO PROMOTE HEALTH
Agymnastics career vaulted Andrea Seminara into diet and exercise trials at an early age. While growing up, she experimented with the foods she ate. “I tried out different diets to see how they affected my
performance,” said Seminara.
Every athlete receives advice from coaches on diet and exercise, said Seminara. And advice from one coach would sometimes fly in the face of advice from another.
“You get told so many things about what you take in and what you expend,” said Seminara. “‘Don’t eat carbohydrates.’ ‘Don’t eat fat.’ It’s confusing. We need to find out what really works and what
Seminara’s interests led her to enroll in Iowa State’s new B.S./M.S. program in diet and exercise.
The program straddles two academic departments and breaks new ground.
“There is no precedent at Iowa State for this kind of program,” said Ruth Litchfield, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition who propelled the proposed program through not one, but three college curriculum committees for approval.
As freshmen, students who aspire to enroll in the selective, dual-degree program choose a double major in dietetics and health and human performance.
They apply to the dual program in the fall of their junior year.
Students who are accepted into the B.S./M.S. program matriculate through the bachelor’s and master’s portions of the coursework as a package in five years. An internship follows. “You cannot
just stop at the bachelor’s degree. It’s all or nothing,” said Litchfield.
Those who are not accepted have the opportunity to complete a bachelor’s degree in either dietetics or health and human performance within a four-year
Unlike other schools’ programs, a student who completes Iowa State’s dual degree program is prepared to receive the Registered Dietitian designation as well as Health/Fitness Instructor
certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.
“This integrated program leads to a wide array of viable career alternatives,” said Litchfield. “Our graduates will be able to work in corporate employee
wellness programs, acute care settings, cardiac rehabilitation, or the local Y. They can work in public health, in disease control, or as grant project coordinators. They will also be prepared to work in schools as consultants for wellness programs, in industry as product developers, and in the public
sector building health promotion campaigns.”
The program underscores the rise of multidisciplinary approaches to scholarship and problem-solving.
“Conceptually, the combination of diet and exercise is very natural,” said Rick Sharp, a professor of health and human performance who helped develop the program. “Lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, result from some combination of diet and physical activity, so the solution has to come
from a combination of those things.”
The need for leadership in diet and exercise has never been more pressing.
“Nutrition and exercise habits contribute to four of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes,” said Litchfield.
“The escalation of obesity among children and teens is startling. Over the past two decades, the number of children and teens considered overweightor at risk for overweight in the U.S. has increased to 25 percent,” said Litchfield.
Iowans’ characteristics make for a good test population, said Litchfield. In 2003, the state of Iowa spent $783 million on healthcare related to overweight and obesity. In 2004, 61 percent of Iowans were classified as overweight or obese. Iowa ranked as the 21st heaviest in the country.
The state’s large rural population is more difficult to reach than those in urban centers. “Extension can help us reach rural families in all 99 counties,” said Sharp.
Iowa State is particularly well positioned to tackle the obesity crisis. “Both the Food Science and Human
Nutrition Department and the Health and Human Performance Department approach health throughout the lifespan,” said Sharp. “To have a significant
impact, those of us working in physical activity, nutrition, gerontology, and human development have to work together.”
“At Iowa State, our people are open and willing to collaborate. We don’t have the big egos. We are a very collaborative bunch of people,” said Sharp.
“We need to educate people about what we have learned, through research,about healthful lifestyle choices,” said Sharp. “Early childhood caregivers and
elementary school teachers can help deliver that message. We need to build lifestyle education into all curricula. Iowa State’s education faculty can help
us with that.”
“We also need to develop messages about making personal choices that are appropriate at different age levels,” said Litchfield. “Iowa is a leader in education.
The ISU education faculty knows which instructional methodologies fit 5-year-olds through 95-year-olds.”
The community and regional planning people have a special role, said Litchfield. It’s not just a matter of
educating individuals about making choices. Obesity is also driven by availability and accessibility of healthful choices, she said.
“We must create an environment that offers healthful choices for community members,” said Litchfield. For instance, some communities are not conducive to
walking or bicycling, she said.
People often have to choose between a 99-cent hamburger or a $5 salad. That’s also an issue of accessibility, said Litchfield, citing opportunities
for informing state and national legislation and policy, health care systems, food production and distribution, and government structures.
Issues of diet and exercise are mounting, said Seminara, who hopes, after graduation, to land a solid job working with athletes or in public health. As these issues peak, Seminara and her colleagues will be ready to coach others toward more healthful
About the Writer | Cathy Curtis is the communications specialist for the College of Human Sciences.