Graduate Certification Program Targets Childhood Obesity
Using interdisciplinary approach
Source Newsroom: South Dakota State University
Newswise — One-third of all children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese. In South Dakota, 32.5 percent of children ages 5 to 19 are overweight or obese. Among Native American children in the state, that number is 48.1 percent.
Combating this childhood obesity epidemic will require the skills of a wide range of experts, says South Dakota State University associate professor of health and nutritional sciences Jessica Meendering.
To accomplish this, Meendering and her team are collaborating with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to offer a Transdisciplinary Childhood Obesity Prevention graduate certificate program, referred to as TOP.
Networking with professionals
“Our goal is to have people think more broadly about obesity than nutrition and exercise,” says Meendering, who is SDSU’s principal investigator. The program brings together experts in a variety of disciplines, such as nutrition, exercise science, early childhood education, statistics, nursing, family development and counseling.
Development of the TOP graduate certification program, which began in 2011, is supported by a five-year, $4.1 million grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. This is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s effort to prevent childhood obesity, educate youth about proper nutrition and connect experts and communities.
Meendering calls it, “bringing people together to work towards one common goal -- to solve the problem.”
Others on the SDSU team are Extension associate and grant coordinator Becky Jensen, professor Kendra Kattelmann and associate professor Elizabeth Droke, both of health and nutritional sciences, associate professor Howard Wey of nursing, assistant professor Mary Bowne of teaching, learning and leadership and Suzanne Stluka, food and families program director for Extension.
Emphasizing experiential learning
The program has three components: education, research and service, referred to as experiential learning. Graduate students must take at least nine credits of child obesity prevention coursework to qualify for the graduate certificate.
Faculty at the two universities work together to teach the classes, Meendering explains. SDSU leads the fall class, while University of Nebraska-Lincoln handles the spring course. The students meet face-to-face at each university and then the two groups interact using technology during the class. In addition to SDSU and UNL, students from the University of Nebraska-Kearny participate in TOP courses.
The most unique aspect of the program is the emphasis on learning through community engagement. That’s where SDSU Extension comes in, providing experiential learning opportunities through interactions among the students and community members.
For instance, graduate students Celine Kabala, Alyssa Koens and Megan Lauseng became involved with the Harvest Table, a nonprofit organization that serves a weekly no-cost meal to those in need in Brookings. The students created a notebook of resources for the Harvest Table that will address scheduling, food safety, menu ideas with quantity resources and safe handling of leftover food.
Stluka has spearheaded experiential learning to help communities create a sustainable wellness plan specifically tailored to their needs through the formation of wellness coalitions, a diverse group of community members with a vested interested in promoting wellness within their communities. Four TOP students worked on implementing a wellness coalition last fall in southwestern South Dakota, and the project will continue to grow and develop.
Improving students’ skills, marketability
“These students get a lot of real-world experience working in teams with people from other disciplines,” explains Meendering. And the TOP students agree that networking will help them in their careers.
“It’s all about marketability, anything that can increase your list of skills is always a plus,” says Emily Huber. For her thesis, Huber will determine whether participating in KidQuest, which promotes healthy food choices and exercise, has affected the physical activity levels of 400 fifth- and sixth-graders.
Graduate students Kabala and Koens, who worked with the Harvest Table, are evaluating the impact of i-Cook 4-H, a program that teaches low-income families and their children how to make meals with the proper balance of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat on a limited budget.
The pilot program, aimed at 9- and 10-year olds, is being tested in five states—South Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee, West Virginia and Maine, through a five-year USDA grant. Nutrition expert Kattelmann supervises their work.
“As dieticians, we usually look at physical activity and nutrition and a little bit of genetics,” says Kabala. “Through this program, we learn about different angles that contribute to childhood obesity.”
For more information on TOP, got to http://www.sdstate.edu/hns/graduate-programs/top.
About Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention (TOP)
This project was supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Grant no. 2011‐67002‐30202 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
About South Dakota State University
Founded in 1881, South Dakota State University is the state’s Morrill Act land-grant institution as well as its largest, most comprehensive school of higher education. SDSU confers degrees from eight different colleges representing more than 175 majors, minors and specializations. The institution also offers 29 master’s degree programs, 12 Ph.D. and two professional programs.
The work of the university is carried out on a residential campus in Brookings, at sites in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City, and through Cooperative Extension offices and Agricultural Experiment Station research sites across the state.