Rising Obesity Rates Prompts New Fitness Degree

March 18, 2008 - News Release

Skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease have prompted the University of Guelph and Humber College to develop a new degree that teaches students interested in becoming personal fitness and nutrition instructors how to prescribe exercise and diet to an unhealthy population.

Offered for the first time this fall, the program is in response to a growing demand for professionals to know more about preventing and moderating obesity-related diseases when conducting physical assessments and developing exercise and nutrition plans for clients.

"Obesity is an epidemic in our population, and it increases the risk of developing a number of chronic diseases," said Elaine Popp, acting program head at the University of Guelph-Humber. "Because the general population is not fit and not able to make good nutrition decisions, our students need to know how to prescribe lifestyle changes to people who aren't healthy."

Response to the four-year program has been overwhelming, with more than 430 students applying for just 60 spots, said Popp.

Besides learning how to set up a fitness plan, graduates of this program will have a scientific understanding of obesity-related diseases and be able to tailor fitness and nutrition programs based on a client's health status, she said.

For example, students in this program will learn how different heart medications influence heart rates, how exercise affects insulin and blood-sugar levels in someone with diabetes, and how certain exercises can alleviate symptoms of some cardiac diseases.

They will also learn the benefits of incorporating whole-grain foods and fibre into the diet to reduce cholesterol levels and gain an understanding of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and the dangers of saturated fatty acids.

"Traditional programs normally stress fitness or nutrition, but our obese society is evidence that the two aspects of lifestyle are intimately related," said Terry Graham, a University of Guelph human health and nutritional sciences professor who helped design the program. "Activity and nutrition influence each other with regard to health benefits, and studies have shown that these aspects of lifestyle are more effective in preventing and moderating diabetes than the best drugs."

The program also addresses our aging population as well as people with other special needs such as pregnancy, arthritis and osteoporosis, said Popp.

After four years, students will earn a bachelor of applied science in kinesiology from the University of Guelph and a diploma in fitness and health promotion from Humber. They will be qualified to work as personal trainers, kinesiologists, wellness consultants and fitness practitioners in both clinical and rehabilitation settings.

Delivery of the program courses will be split between faculty at the University of Guelph and Humber. U of G faculty will teach anatomy, biomechanics, nutrition and exercise physiology; Humber faculty will deliver courses on health promotion, exercise prescription and fitness assessment and will provide hands-on experience through co-op field placements.

"The courses to be offered speak to the current and growing demand in the health care industry and to Canadians' lifestyle issues," said Graham. "It's a program that answers the upcoming needs of society."

Terry Graham
University of Guelph
Chair of the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences
519-824-4120, Ext. 56168

Elaine Popp
University of Guelph-Humber
Acting head of the kinesiology program
416-798-1331, Ext. 6302

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, l.hunt@exec.uoguelph.ca, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982, d.healey@exec.uoguelph.ca.

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1