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Centers & Institutions

With Redstone Center Support, New Legislation Passes to Increase Physical Activity for DC Students

Efforts by the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at Milken Institute SPH played a key role in the passage of legislation by the DC Council to increase physical activity for DC students, signifying a local public health victory. This legislation provides students in DC public schools with more time for play and physical activity, which supports academic, social and emotional learning and healthy development.

William Dietz, chair of the Redstone Global Center and professor of prevention and community health, serves as the chair of the Healthy Youth and Schools Commission (HYSC) Subcommittee on Physical Activity. The role of the HYSC, created by the 2010 Healthy Schools Act, is to advise the DC Council on student health and wellness. Dietz and staff from the Redstone Global Center were central to subcommittee efforts related to the Healthy Students Amendment Act (HSAA), which makes a number of improvements related to school-time physical activity that were identified since the passage of the 2010 Healthy Schools Act.

Redstone Global Center recommendations contributed to the strong physical activity provisions in the HSAA, such as mandates for daily recess for all students, age-appropriate daily physical activity guidelines, support and professional development for teachers and staff to incorporate physical activity into the classroom and a new minimum requirement for physical education (PE) class minutes.

Dietz believes the amendment will improve the public health of the DC community and can be used as a model for cities nationwide. “The increased physical activity that will result from these efforts represent a huge step forward for DC students in terms of healthy development and academic success,” Dietz says. “Our efforts brought together a number of diverse stakeholders, demonstrating that this process can and should be replicated across the country.

It will be essential to ensure the strong provisions in the Healthy Students Amendments Act are implemented to benefit the students of the District.”

To learn more about the latest research and work from the Redstone Center, visit publichealth.gwu.edu/redstone-center.

New Research and Interactive Tools Will Assist in the Fight Against Obesity

With adult obesity rates on the rise across the U.S., states could be doing more to remove barriers to effective obesity treatments, according to new research from the STOP Obesity Alliance (STOP) at Milken Institute SPH. As part of the study, which was published in the journal Obesity, researchers found that coverage for three recommended types of obesity treatment—nutritional counseling, medication and bariatric surgery—generally increased between 2009 and 2017 in state Medicaid and state employee health plans.

However, researchers also found that state coverage is often piecemeal and inconsistent, and barriers exist within plans that prevent people with obesity from accessing evidence-based, effective treatments. Additionally, for each of the three treatment types reviewed, a handful of states that indicated coverage in 2009 specifically excluded that coverage in 2017, and among the seven states with the highest obesity rates, four have reduced coverage for obesity treatment.

“Approximately 93 million U.S. adults have obesity and 7.4 million are more than 100 pounds overweight; the gulf between the need for treatment and its availability will not be narrowed if states fail to address gaps in coverage and barriers along a continuum of obesity care,” says William Dietz, director of the STOP Obesity Alliance and chair of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at Milken Institute SPH.

In addition to the published findings, STOP developed an interactive map to enable easy state-to-state comparisons. The map includes state adult obesity and diabetes rates, coverage specifics in Medicaid and state employee health plans, and printable state fact sheets.
Based on the research findings, STOP also provided key recommendations for state-funded coverage plans. These recommendations include states providing comprehensive coverage for treatments as recommended by evidence-based clinical practice guidelines as well as improving the consistency of Medicaid and state employer plans so that providers can best advise treatment.

“Our research identifies opportunities for states to reduce the costly burden of obesity and other related diseases,” Dietz adds. “These state coverage changes, paired with the explicit recognition of obesity as a disease—and the broader elimination of bias and stigma toward people with obesity—will be necessary to make real headway in reversing the obesity epidemic.”

To read more about the research findings and STOP’s recommendations, visit stop.publichealth.gwu.edu.

DC CFAR Supports Research Aimed at Ending HIV Epidemic

In his 2019 State of the Union address, President Trump announced the launch of an initiative to stop HIV transmission in the United States by 2030, a goal that will require aggressive public health action but may be within reach. The District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research (DC CFAR) is working toward ending the HIV epidemic in Washington, DC, and is based at Milken Institute SPH.

The DC CFAR is one of 19 centers located across the country funded by the National Institutes of Health to provide scientific leadership and infrastructure for HIV/ AIDS research. DC CFAR is a multi- institutional partnership that includes the George W ashington University, American University, Children’s National Health System, DC Department of Health, Georgetown University, Howard University, Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Whitman- Walker Health.

The consortium, which represents 227 investigators from the eight institutions, is headquartered at Milken Institute SPH. Alan Greenberg, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Milken Institute SPH, is the director of DC CFAR, and Gary Simon, MD, PhD, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, is the co-director.

“All of our institutions are united for a common cause, with a mission to intensify our efforts to support research that will end the HIV epidemic in DC and beyond,” Greenberg says. Approximately 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 13,000 people in DC are living with HIV, according to the DC Department of Health. Although the number of new cases diagnosed annually in DC has dropped more than 70 percent since 2007, it has remained level for the past several years.

The DC CFAR is working to further reduce the rate of new cases by promoting and supporting HIV research that can be categorized into three scientific focus areas: HIV prevention; immunology, virology and pathogenesis; and optimization of HIV care and treatment. Greenberg says he thinks it is possible to make substantial progress towards ending the HIV epidemic. Other Milken Institute SPH faculty who play a significant role in this work include Amanda Castel, MD, MPH, associate professor of epidemiology, who directs the HIV epidemic Scientific Work Group, Rupali Doshi, MD, MS, assistant research professor of epidemiology; and Carlos Rodriguez- Diaz, PhD, MPH, associate professor of prevention and community health, who retains close ties with colleagues in Puerto Rico on research related to HIV/AIDS.

“I’m hopeful, and we’re going to work hard to make it happen by working in partnership with the government and community,” Greenberg says. “We have the tools available to make a concerted effort to impact the lives of more people.”

BIOSTATISTICS & BIOINFORMATICS

Biostatistics is the science of designing, conducting, analyzing and interpreting studies aimed at improving public health and medicine. Bioinformatics is the science of developing and applying computational algorithms and analysis methodologies to big biological data such as genetic sequences.

New Genomics Core Brings Next-Generation DNA Sequencing to GW

Milken Institute SPH launched a Genomics Core last fall that will allow researchers from across the university to develop genomic approaches that could lead to solutions for some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as impacts of climate change or HIV infection. Core facilities will allow scientists to fully explore the latest scientific techniques and methods that will yield powerful and impactful results, George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Our new Genomics Core brings next- generation DNA sequencing to the entire GW community and beyond by providing the equipment and expertise
to facilitate genomic research. Instead of having multiple sequencers scattered throughout the university under a desk, this core allows for a central service by trained individuals to produce high-quality data in a centralized environment,” he said. “Data analytics, more specifically genomic sequencing, continue to be an area of growth in terms of education and employment opportunities.”

Centralized, In-House Facility

The Genomics Core Center provides a centralized facility for nucleic acid extraction, genomic sequencing and other services, along with the technical expertise to assist GW researchers and others who are trying to advance a scientific project that would benefit from genomics analysis. The center is based at Milken Institute SPH’s Computational Biology Institute and is led by CBI Director Keith Crandall. Before the Genomics Core launch, researchers had to send out DNA samples for sequencing. This meant they had to plan out exactly what they wanted to do and had less flexibility to adapt their research as it developed. With the core service, researchers will be able to do this work in-house, and faculty will be able to help one another push the boundaries of genomics by developing new approaches and provide hands-on educational opportunities for students.

“The Genomics Core has the capacity to analyze large sets of genetic data, advancing scientific understanding of genomes, gene succession and genetic mutation,” Milken Institute SPH Dean Lynn Goldman said at the ribbon-cutting event. “W ith this core, the Computational Biology Institute can assist cross- disciplinary researchers to apply this approach to solve complex problems that affect all of us.”

The Genomics Core will also provide practical experience for student researchers, President LeBlanc said. GW students will gain knowledge
and experience working with genomic sequencing and will be much better positioned for making an impact in public health, medicine and technology.
While the Genomics Core will primarily be used by GW faculty, researchers and students, it will also accommodate outside work when possible, especially from collaborators at other institutions.

New Genomics Core Brings Next-Generation DNA Sequencing to GW

At least 24 scientists and 17 institutions from around the world are collaborating on a global effort to sequence the DNA from all eukaryotic species on Earth. One of those researchers is Milken Institute SPH Professor and Director of the Computational Biology Institute and Genomics Core Center Keith Crandall.

The Earth BioGenome Project was inspired by the Human Genome Project, which sequenced the entire human genome. The findings of the Human Genome Project has had an impact on human medicine, veterinary medicine, biotechnology, environmental science, renewable energy, industrial biotechnology and forensics.

“This is a really exciting concept bringing the challenge of the Human Genome Project to every species on Earth,” Crandall said previously about the project. “Like the Human Genome Project, we anticipate the Earth BioGenome Project will accelerate sequencing technologies and generate a plethora of biotechnology and pharmaceutical discoveries.” The project, which will take about 10 years to complete, could reframe the way we understand life and lead to discoveries in technology, medicine and genomics. It may also unveil 10 to 15 million previously unknown species.

New Genomics Core Brings Next-Generation DNA Sequencing to GW

The Biostatistics Center (BSC) at Milken Institute SPH recently launched a new website to showcase its world-class research, mission and vision for the future. The new website highlights research projects conducted by the BSC, including projects on diabetes, maternal-fetal medicine and infectious diseases. The BSC often serves as the coordinating center for clinical trials, observational studies and diagnostic studies, collaborating with the clinical investigators on the study design, monitoring, analysis and reporting. Also featured is information about the BSC’s education and training initiatives, statistical methodology research, and current research on patient-focused outcomes.

The BSC, founded in 1972, has long been a globally renowned leader in practice-changing clinical trials and biostatistical research. Research studies conducted by the BSC have been recognized in reports to the White House and U.S. Congress as well as featured in national media stories. Additionally, the BSC was named the No. 1 advance in medicine by the Harvard Health Letter, received the Trial of the Year Award, and it has had more than 60 publications in the New England Journal of Medicine. The BSC has a staff of approximately 120, including more than 40 biostatisticians and epidemiologists.

Computational Biology Research Assistant Receives National Science Foundation Fellowship

Rebecca Clement, a graduate research assistant at Milken Institute SPH’s Computational Biology Institute and a PhD student in biological sciences at GW, received a 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to study termite diversity in Australia.

Although termites are best known as pests that eat away at people’s homes, they actually play an important role in tropical ecosystems because of their ability to break down wood and other materials, Clement says. In fact, termites are critical components of tropical systems, where they may decompose up to 50 percent of plant organic material in litter, wood and soil. Clement will conduct her research in Northern Queensland, Australia, where there is a termite diversity anomaly, with greater variety occurring in savanna areas rather than rainforest areas. This is different from most tropical areas, where termite diversity and abundance is greatest in places with the most annual rainfall, Clement says.

Specifically, Clement’s project will look at how precipitation affects termite communities and the gut microbes that help them break down rotting wood. And by measuring these factors across moisture gradients, Clement will identify key features driving increased termite diversity in the savanna. “As Australia continues to be confronted by drought, and as ecosystems shift, there will undoubtedly be an effect on the termites and, thus, decomposition in general,” she says. “This study documents termite diversity across a rainfall gradient to determine what the role of these small, but significant, animals are in different habitats.”

Clement hopes that her research project will help local Australian land managers to better understand this type of insect group and thus, better manage their property. She also hopes the research will add to a larger study that is aiming to model the effects of termites, fungi and decomposing microbes on the climate. And last, Clement hopes that this work will add to her professional experience and development. “This project will help me to develop as a scientist and educator as I learn and help others learn about these amazing animals,” she says. NSF’s fellowship program recognizes
and provides funding to students early in their graduate training in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

ENVIRONMENTAL & OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH

Environmental and occupational health looks at how environmental and occupational exposures impact human health. It explores the underlying science and policy for issues such as sustainable cities and food systems, climate change mitigation, workplace safety and risk management.

David Michaels Testifies on Capitol Hill on the Dangers of Public Health Disinformation Campaigns

As the only public health school in the nation’s capital, Milken Institute SPH faculty are often called upon to testify as experts before members of Congress. In February, David Michaels, PhD, a professor of environmental and occupational health, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations about how industries mislead the public about health and environmental risks. The
event was part of a month-long series of hearings on climate change held by several congressional committees.

Michaels spoke about how the fossil fuel industry employs various tactics used by the tobacco industry and others to misin- form the public about dangers associated with climate change. In his testimony, he provided examples of previous cases of disinformation campaigns, including those related to opioid use, brain injuries in professional athletes and tobacco use. “These disinformation campaigns are public relations disguised as science,” Michaels said in his testimony. “The scientific process is designed to encourage disagreement and debate—but it requires that participants contribute to those debates in good faith. Instead, each indus- try’s hired guns deliberately manufacture and magnify doubt in order to misin- form policymakers and the public—with disastrous consequences for our collective well-being.”

Before he joined Milken Institute SPH, Michaels was the assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during the Obama Administration. He is consid- ered one of the top experts on campaigns to mislead the American public. In 2008, he published a book titled “Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health” on how various industries use similar tactics to manufacture uncertainty about scientific evidence. He is expecting a second book on the subject, “The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception,” to be published in early 2020.

Professors Share Environmental and Occupational Health Expertise in ‘Toxic Beauty’ Documentary

A new documentary exploring the environmental and health impacts of the beauty industry features two professors from the Milken Institute SPH Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “Toxic Beauty” features observations by Assistant Professor Ami Zota, ScD, MS, about the public health risks of the beauty products that many people use daily. Drawing from her research into the toxic chemicals found in cosmetics, she provides details about skin care as well as hair and feminine products that have been associated with mercury poisoning and reproductive problems including ovarian cancer, preterm birth and endocrine disruption.

Professor David Michaels, PhD, MPH, whose research includes a focus on protecting the integrity of the science underpinning public health
and environmental protections, was interviewed about his thoughts on how industry scientists can cloud data on health concerns related to cosmetics products. “Chemicals are not like people. They’re not innocent until they’re proven guilty,” says Michaels. Both Zota and Michaels attended the documentary’s premier screening at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto at the invitation of the film’s director, Phyllis Ellis.

Public Health Experts Reflect on TSCA Reform

Leading health policy experts gathered at Milken Institute SPH on June 24 to reflect on the accomplishments and challenges since the implementation of the 2016 Lautenberg Amendments and the current state of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Dean Lynn Goldman, who is the former assistant administrator for Toxic Substances in the EPA under the Clinton Administration, provided welcome remarks to attendees and those who watched via
a webinar. Goldman kicked off the event by presenting a history of TSCA, what led to its creation, and an overview of its current state. She noted more than 45,000 chemicals are no longer manufactured due to the law.

Panelists included George M. Gray, PhD, professor of environmental and occupational health and director of the Center for Risk Science and Public Health at Milken Institute SPH; Jeffery Morris, director of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Britt L. McAtee, PhD, toxicology manager of PPG Industries. “I don’t know if we’ll find in 20 years that everything has been done and people are happy, or if we’re going to need to take a look at how to overhaul the statute again,” Goldman said in her remarks. “It’s much too soon to predict that.”

EPIDEMIOLOGY

Epidemiology explores how diseases affect populations and communities and allows us to understand the social and medical determinants of health, driving an understanding of how infectious diseases, like Ebola or HIV/AIDS, spread and which communities are most vulnerable so we can better treat and prevent future outbreaks.

First-of-Its-Kind Class Brings Together Young Adults With Autism and Milken Institute SPH Students to Share Experiences

For Sean Cleary, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, crunching numbers and writing reports is not enough when it comes to research. With his background in community-based research, he also believes it’s essential for academics and the populations they study to work together to identify where needs are and where solutions should come from. That’s exactly the kind of classroom experience he created with “The Autism Experience: A Public Health Perspective.” A key component of this class is integrating the voices of the population under discussion, young adults with autism, along with their families, who participate in the class alongside GW students.

Cleary’s goals for the class are twofold: to introduce GW students to the basics of community research and to expose them to the voices of their peers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). “There are misperceptions about this population regarding their cognitive abilities, whether they have an intellectual deficit or not,” he says. “Once our students hear from these young adults, they realize very quickly how much they contribute to the discussion.” In designing the class, Cleary spoke directly to college-aged young people with ASD to see what they wanted to learn about and what they wanted their neurotypical peers to learn about them. “They really wanted to hear lectures about the science of autism and the statistics around it, to be able to learn from and respond to that,” he says.

Cleary hopes that this experience will stick with his students, who come from a range of study areas both graduate and undergraduate. “W hether they approach this class from a clinical perspective, a counseling perspective, research, whatever, they can draw on that experience,” he says. Not only does this first-of-a-kind class highlight the real-world experience of young adults with autism, but it also expands upon the interdisciplinary knowledge of autism experts drawn from the GW campus and the greater DC area.

“One of the reasons for doing this class is to identify areas that need more attention,” says Cleary. “It’s been invaluable to have these young adults come to the course. Afterwards, I’ll continue to meet with them, to learn what works, what didn’t work, what they’d like to see, and we’ll start really figuring out how to engage them in the research.”

Researchers Identify Genetic Sequencing Workflow to Track and Stop Drug-Resistant HIV

A new genetic sequencing workflow approach holds great promise for monitoring drug-resistance mutations in HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to a study led by Milken Institute SPH researchers.

“Our study validates easy-to-use software for analyzing sequencing data to follow HIV drug resistance as it spreads through a community,” says Jeanne Jordan, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. “Such a method could be used to prevent the spread of HIV, including hard-to-treat resistant strains of the virus.” To better understand the potential for transmission of drug-resistant HIV virus among certain groups, Jordan and her colleagues recruited 79 people living with HIV in DC. The researchers drew blood from people who had given consent and extracted genetic material to sequence the HIV in each sample.

Combining this newer sequencing method with free, publicly available software, the team found they could detect HIV drug-resistant mutations, including those that conventional sequencing tests have trouble detecting. In addition, the team identified potential transmission clusters of related viruses. Health departments can use such information to assist communities in the monitoring and prevention of drug- resistant HIV. The messaging could help encourage safe sex or other methods to prevent the spread of HIV. If these findings are verified, this approach might have implications for other communities with drug-resistant HIV, Jordan says. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Combining this newer sequencing method with free, publicly available software, the team found they could detect HIV drug-resistant mutations, including those that conventional sequencing tests have trouble detecting.

MPH Student Works to Improve Substance Use Programming in Chicago’s Public Health Department

Gretchen Bauermeister, MPH ’20, a second- year graduate student in epidemiology, has always been interested in substance use and other behavioral health topics. This past summer she was able to combine that interest with her work in public health as a graduate research assistant at Milken Institute SPH and as a substance use program archivist with the city of Chicago. As part of her graduate research assistant position with Epidemiology Associate Professor Debra Bernat, Bauermeister examined the relationship between smoking and health in DC public housing. She says that gaining such hands-on experience really solidified her passion for the subject and that getting involved with a different type of health organization provided her with a unique perspective on how various stakeholders can work together to promote health.

This research experience influenced Bauermeister’s decision to then intern as a substance use program archivist with the Office of V iolence Prevention and Behavioral Health within the Chicago Department of Public Health. In this position, Bauermeister helped evaluate and archive past substance use programs implemented in the city. She also recommended strategies for future interventions.

Bauermeister describes the experience as eye-opening and fulfilling as she was able to help move a project from start to finish and to see its impact on the health outcomes of people in the community. The internship also provided Bauermeister an opportunity to work with a variety
of public health professionals, including emergency preparedness experts and field epidemiologists, as they collaborated to promote behavioral health and reduce substance use throughout Chicago. It also proved to be an invaluable experience for personal growth and self-knowledge.
“This experience taught me the importance of curiosity and of asking for help when you need it,” Bauermeister says. “Throughout our careers as public health practitioners, most of us will spend time in new environments with individuals or populations we are not familiar with. It can be intimidating to ask questions you feel like you should know the answer to, especially when you’re new on the job. By stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ve really strengthened my knowledge.”

Bauermeister describes the experience as eye-opening and fulfilling as she was able to help move a project from start to finish and to see its impact on the health outcomes of people in the community.

EXERCISE & NUTRITION SCIENCES

Increasing Physical Activity Among DC Schoolchildren

Jennifer Sacheck, PhD, the Sanofi Professor of Prevention and Wellness and chair of the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, focuses her research on keeping children fit and healthy.

A nationally recognized expert in nutrition and physical activity, Sacheck’s research is currently assessing physical activity among underserved schoolchildren in Washington, DC and more broadly, how to improve children’s physical literacy across multiple states. One study, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, is looking at how enhancing children’s motivation and confidence for movement at a young age can increase physical activity and reduce health disparities regardless of their gender, weight status or race/ethnicity. Sacheck and researchers are currently working to message the importance of children’s physical activity to parents. Sacheck notes it’s particularly important to appropriately tailor the message to parents balancing numerous responsibilities at home.

“In general, we’re helping children develop fundamental movement skills so they feel confident to engage in various physical activities as they grow up,” Sacheck says. Sacheck’s past research includes conducting large intervention trials to determine the impact of innovative physical activity programs on increasing activity and academic achievement among lower-income schoolchildren, and the impact of diet and specific nutrients on cardiometabolic risk and other health outcomes in at-risk children and youth. Her research on the intersection of nutrition, physical activity and health promotion has been widely published in academic journals and reports.

Move More, Sit Less: Staving Off Mobility Loss in Aging Populations

The combination of excess weight/obesity and an inactive lifestyle represents a powerful joint risk factor for developing mobility loss after age 60, according to recent research from Milken Institute SPH. Other studies have suggested that obesity and lack of physical activity both contribute to mobility loss; however, this is the first study to follow participants over time and examine the twin contributions of weight and physical activity on the risk of developing a walking disability. It is also the first study to consider varying intensities of physical activity, as well as other lifestyle factors, such as TV viewing, smoking, and caloric intake.

“We found that even for healthy older people, prevention of obesity and an active lifestyle were very important in main- taining health and function as time goes on,” says Loretta DiPietro, professor of exercise and nutrition sciences and lead author of the study. DiPietro and colleagues analyzed data from participants ages 50 to 71, noting each volunteer’s body weight, levels of physical activity and lifestyle factors, and followed up over a period of about 20 years to see how many had developed mobility loss by the end of the study.

Researchers concluded that the risk of developing a walking disability rose with increasing weight status at all levels of physical activity. Additionally, people who were of normal weight but physically inac- tive did not escape the risk of developing a walking disability, suggesting the impor- tance of an active lifestyle across the body weight spectrum.

The findings, which were published in the International Journal of Obesity, suggest that there are potent ways to stave off mobility loss at older ages. The key take- away? Move more and sit less. Older adults should aim for the minimum physical activity standards of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, incorporate strength training and maintain a healthy weight in order to help lower the risk of mobility disability.

“Given the aging U.S. population, the findings could lead to a powerful public health strategy that would keep older adults healthy and functionally fit far into older age,” says DiPietro, who adds that becoming more physically active doesn’t require a gym membership. Getting up and moving in any way is beneficial for your health, she says. “It can be accomplished at home, in the yard, or anywhere: Just do it!

Exercise and Nutrition Sciences Laboratory Designated GW Core Facilities

Previously unknown to most, the basement level of Milken Institute SPH contains a laboratory with state-of-the art equipment that allows Milken Institute SPH researchers and students to do nutrition assessments, fitness and metabolic testing, and DEXA body composition scans.

This extraordinary space, tentatively named the Applied Metabolism and Physiology (AMP) Laboratory, will soon be designated a GW core facility, a term given to spaces across campus that are available for use by all GW investigators, often for a fee-for-service charge. The space will also accept external customers from researchers and centers nationwide who want to use the top-notch equipment to assist their research projects. Individuals from both the GW and greater Washington, DC, communities can also visit the lab as customers and pay to undergo various exercise and nutrition tests, such as body composition and stress tests, that provide insight into their physical health.

“It’s great that more people can use these extraordinary spaces that we have available,” says Jennifer Sacheck, PhD, the Sanofi Professor of Prevention and Wellness and chair of the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. “We’ve been using these spaces to educate our students, and we’ll continue doing so but also now can leverage our resources to make it accessible for the greater community.”

Sugary Sodas Vs. Diet Drinks? Two Sides of the Same Coin

Diet or low-calorie sweetened beverages might not be the best alternative to sugary beverages, according to recent research funded by the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at Milken Institute SPH. In fact, the study found that U.S. children and teens who consumed low-calorie or zero-calorie sweetened beverages, such as diet soda, took in about 200 extra calories on a given day compared to those who drank water, and they took in about the same number of calories as youth who consumed sugary beverages.

“These results challenge the utility of diet or low-calorie sweetened beverages when it comes to cutting calories and weight management,” says Allison Sylvetsky, assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences and lead author of the study. The findings suggest a link between consuming sweetened beverages—containing sugar and/or low-calorie sweeteners—and higher intakes of both calories and sugar.

A previous study by Sylvetsky and colleagues found that children and teens frequently consume low-calorie sweeteners in a variety of different diet sodas and reduced calorie drinks, as well as in food and snack items. This 2017 study also found a significant rise in the consumption of low-calorie sweeteners in children and teens over the years. To find out more on the topic, the researchers looked at reports from kids and teens who enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011 to 2016. They examined what the kids and teens ate and drank during a 24-hour period and zeroed in on the reported consumption of sweetened beverages, both those with low-calorie sweeteners and those with sugar.

The highest calorie intakes were reported in children and teens who consumed both low-calorie sweetened beverages and sugary beverages, compared to water consumers, and no differences in calorie intake were observed between consumers of diet/low-calorie sweetened drinks vs. sugary ones. This study has significant implications because nearly one in three kids in the United States is now overweight or has obesity, which puts them at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and other serious health conditions. The study shows that diet or low-calorie sweetened beverages might not be as helpful for weight management in children and teens as they are intended to be. Therefore, the researchers advise against the prolonged consumption of low-calorie sweetened beverages and recommend water as the best choice for teens and kids.

MPH Alumna and Triathlete Looks at International Development Through a Lens of Physical Activity

Last summer, Melissa Otterbein, MPH ’19, was able to combine her passions for public health and physical fitness—she’s a certified USA Triathlon Coach and USA Swimming Coach—while completing her practicum at the Girls Gotta Run Foundation (GGRF) in Bekoji, Ethiopia.
Otterbein, who recently graduated from the Physical Activity in Public Health program, worked as a monitoring and evaluation intern and says that she gained skills in the design, implementation and evaluation of sport for development programs at GGRF, which is dedicated to empowering women and their communities through running and education.

More than one million girls in Ethiopia are not in school, according to UNESCO. This can often be attributed to factors such as childhood marriage, financial barriers, family disapproval and increasing domestic duties, says Otterbein, who notes the importance of empowering these women through education, economic development, and physical activity.

“GGRF provides such pathways for girls by running workout sessions along with weekly life skills curriculum focused on healthy relationships, leadership development, economic empowerment and health education,” she says. “The girls’ mothers also meet weekly for a savings and entrepreneurship group meeting in which the women use the capital created through the business development workshops to support their own businesses and families.” In addition to transformative personal experiences, Otterbein’s internship provided her with valuable research and field experience. As part of her practicum, she created a strategic plan detailing how GGRF addressed 11 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as defined by the United Nations General Assembly. She later presented her research and findings at the Milken Institute SPH-sponsored Global Health Mini- University in fall 2018.

While in East Africa, Otterbein was also able to conduct site visits with Public Health Ambassadors Uganda, which focuses on sexual health education through play, drama, dance, flash mobs and health education, to help further her understanding of how organizations are addressing SDGs globally.
She credits both that experience as well as the privilege of working and running alongside GGRF’s young female leaders for an unforgettable summer. “I returned to Washington, DC, inspired by the youth of Bekoji, Ethiopia, and Wakiso, Uganda, and ready to address sexual and reproductive health and development through sport in my future career.”

GGRF provides such pathways for girls by running workout sessions along with weekly life skills curriculum focused on healthy relationships, leadership development, economic empowerment and health education.

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