Health behavior science major at UD in line with new national focus
Kerrigan Smith, now a student in UD's master of science in health promotion program, teaches a Fitness for Life class for students in the Carpenter Sports Building.
Health behavior science senior Kelly Crawford conducts a health assessment for a student client in the Trabant Food Court as part of the ongoing Healthy Hens program.
Health behavior science major Christine Kukich checks nutrition facts for participants in the Strong Bodies Strong Minds wellness program at Eastpoint Community Church, where she is an intern this semester.

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11:16 a.m., March 21, 2011----A headline in the March 2011 issue of The Nation's Health, published by the American Public Health Association (APHA), reads “Public Health Council Shifts National Focus to Prevention.”

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“This means health behavior science and health promotion will become key,” says Michael Peterson, chair of the University of Delaware's Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition (BHAN).

And it's good news for students selecting the health behavior science (HBS) undergraduate major at UD. The curriculum enables students to explore and analyze how human behavior and environment affect health, chronic disease and quality of life across the lifespan.

“This program is fitness on steroids,” Peterson says. “It's based on the understanding that relying only on the principles of exercise or nutrition isn't enough -- we have to understand why people do what they do and how to work with them to make changes that will improve their quality of life.”

Georges Benjamin, APHA executive director, has referred to the new National Prevention Strategy as “the blueprint for converting our approach to health from one which is sick care to one that is well care.”

That approach opens the door for people trained in HBS to become essential members of the health care team of the future.

The HBS degree prepares students to work in a variety of organizations and settings -- from educational institutions, non-profits, and government agencies to corporations, clinics and hospitals. Careers include wellness program coordination, health education, health coaching, policy analysis, fundraising and event coordination, and nutrition.

Students take a broad range of courses including personal health management, anatomy and physiology, behavior change strategies, physical activity and behavior, health behavior theory and assessment, nutritional concepts, and nutrition and activity. They also learn to develop health promotion programs, and they finish their four years with an internship during the final semester.

HBS majors are also required to complete a minor, which is chosen based on their career interests. Available minors include public health, business administration, coaching science, disability studies, entrepreneurial studies, leisure service management, nutrition, psychology, strength and conditioning, exercise science and leadership.

Peterson emphasizes that while the degree prepares students to immediately enter the work force, it also provides a strong foundation for further education, including medical school as well as physical therapy, occupational therapy and physician assistant programs.

In addition, UD offers a health promotion master's degree that some HBS students choose to enroll in after graduation. First-year master's student Kerrigan Smith followed that path.

“When I came to UD as an undergraduate,” says Smith, “I was really interested in many aspects of health, including nutrition, physical activity, and motivation to comply. While exercise science or nutrition would have allowed me to pursue something I loved, health behavior science encompassed both of them and added the motivation aspect, something I was very passionate about, as well.”

“With diseases that could be prevented much of the time through lifestyle modifications, America could use a lot of health behavior scientists,” she continues. “So much research is emerging that could help improve the quality of life of those in the U.S. and around the world. I wanted to continue to work with the faculty and students here in order to spread the healthy lifestyle revolution. My ultimate goal is to work with a community, non-profit or wellness organization, possibly in a Latin American country, for a couple of years and then return to America to continue this type of work.”

For more information about the HBS major, visit the website or contact Peterson at [pmpeter@udel.edu], Sue Coffing at [scoffing@udel.edu] or Beth Orsega-Smith at [eosmith@udel.edu].

Article by Diane Kukich
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Doug Baker

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