Even Mom and Dad Can Learn
PhD student, Guelph-Humber instructor finds different audiences for message
on healthful living
BY ANDREW VOWLES
Ask Kerry Mullen’s parents about the take-home messages from her Guelph studies of exercise, nutrition and health. Both her mom and dad were obese before she began her B.Sc. here in 2000.
Now getting ready to defend her PhD thesis this spring in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences (HHNS), Mullen says her parents have both lost weight and are exercising more.
“I don’t want to take all the credit, but I’m frequently a bug in their ears.”
She’s got another target for her message at the University of Guelph-Humber, where she teaches in the two-year-old kinesiology program.
In her research lab at Guelph, Mullen studies adiponectin, a hormone released from fat cells that affects insulin’s impact in the body. She uses rodent models to look at how high-fat diets affect storage or use of fat in skeletal muscle.
High-fat diets are known to contribute to Type 2 diabetes, a growing health problem in North America. The disease can develop when the body fails to respond to insulin produced to use up glucose from food.
“Prevention or treatment of this disease is within our capacity,” says Mullen. “We can treat it with diet and exercise.”
Her supervisor, Prof. David Dyck, says it’s important to look at how diabetes develops rather than just how to treat it.
“Trying to reverse the progression of obesity and insulin resistance in its early stages is preferable to reversing a greater degree of damage after many years,” he says.
Although many researchers hope to find novel drug targets, Mullen is interested in lifestyle changes that might help control or prevent diabetes.
She had begun her studies in biochemistry but switched to nutrition after taking a course with HHNS professor emeritus Bruce Holub.
“I’ve always been interested in nutrition, exercise, health and well- being,” she says. “His enthusiasm was infectious.”
Mullen is currently training to run her first full marathon this spring. She has completed shorter distances since her first run with a high school group that aimed to raise awareness of organ donations after a friend’s death in a car accident.
Having TA’d at Guelph, she was keen to get involved with the kinesiology program when it was launched at Guelph-Humber. She now spends two days a week there, teaching two third-year courses in exercise physiology and nutrition and metabolism.
More than 40 students will be the first to graduate from that program this spring, says Elaine Popp, head of kinesiology at Guelph-Humber. More than 200 students are now enrolled throughout the four-year program, entering either in first year or in third year after earning a diploma in fitness and health promotion. Popp says she receives about 550 first-year applications each year.
About half of the program’s instructors are from U of G.
“Kerry’s research area was perfectly aligned with the learning outcomes embedded in our program,” says Popp. “She was an ideal match.”
Among those first graduates this spring will be Cassandra Emmett, who took both of Mullen’s courses and worked in her lab last summer.
“I found her to be a great teacher with a lot of passion for the material,” says Emmett.
Mullen will discuss her research March 15 at 3 p.m. in Room 241 of the Food Science Building.