Sharkey developing graduate education to address childhood obesity

August 14, 2013
Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD

Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD

Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health and founding director of the Program for Research and Outreach-Engagement in Nutrition and Health Disparities, recently presented a talk on “Obesity Policy, Multicultural Issues, and Health Disparities: Key Learning Objectives” at the University of Georgia-sponsored State-of-the-Art Conference to develop graduate interdisciplinary instruction in obesity and weight management among Southeastern Conference (SEC) universities. Dr. Sharkey’s talk focused on contextual influences on activity- and nutrition-related behaviors, multicultural issues, community engagement for population-level obesity prevention, and the process of developing and implementing policies in multiple settings.

The conference objectives included identifying:
•    Best practices for students in graduate education in obesity
•    Competencies, learning objectives, and learning outcomes
•    An integration strategy across disciplines in universities throughout the SEC

SEC Logo

SEC Logo

The long-term goal of this multi-state initiative is to provide graduate education to address the epidemic of childhood obesity in the southeastern U.S. through a Graduate Interdisciplinary Certificate in Childhood Obesity that will be offered collaboratively by universities in the SEC. This is a significant and innovative change in higher education, because no such inter-institutional graduate level certificate currently exists for the southeastern U.S. – which has the highest regional prevalence of childhood obesity.

The overall impact on improving the quality of food and agriculture sciences education will be to equip graduates – our future workforce – with the interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to address the problem of childhood obesity from multidisciplinary perspectives in their environments, including schools, Cooperative Extension, public health departments, clinical and outpatient settings, and other community venues. This segment of the workforce directly interacts with and impacts the health and well-being of children, the general public, and our communities on a daily basis.

The anticipated audience includes students pursuing master’s degrees in agriculture, family and consumer sciences, education, public health, and related areas. Impacts include a workforce prepared to address childhood obesity from the multidisciplinary perspectives of child and family development; food, nutrition, and agriculture; physical activity and exercise; counseling and behavior management; and public health and obesity policy.

The next conference will further identify the intended competencies, learning objectives and outcomes, an integration strategy across disciplines, methods of delivery, evaluation plan, educational resources needed, and strategies for collaboration across institutions, anticipated impact, and recruitment of diverse students into the proposed Graduate Interdisciplinary Certificate in Childhood Obesity.

This initiative is directed by Mary Ann Johnson, Ph.D., Bill and June Flatt Professor in Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia. This conference, which had more than 70 attendees from 12 SEC and non-SEC universities, was supported by the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Georgia.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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