Alexis Walker explores why women care for family members before they care for themselves.

Alexis Walker is a professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences
Alexis Walker is a professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences

Alexis Walker, a professor in OSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, is looking at a conundrum: The typical middle-aged woman takes care of everybody in her household except one — herself. The consequences of this benevolent self-neglect can be dire: chronic disease, even death.

Even the healthiest lifestyle can’t always prevent disease. Still, millions of wives, mothers and grandmothers could better fend off, or at least slow down, the ravages of diabetes, heart disease and stroke if only they could find the time (or make the time) to exercise and eat right. Walker is digging into the social and psychological reasons they can’t (or don’t). If she can identify barriers, she can help craft interventions that break them down.

Walker’s area of expertise, family dynamics, is the third prong of a cross-disciplinary OSU investigation into lifestyle choices among women who have been diagnosed with “metabolic syndrome” — a dangerous complex of risk factors that has reached epidemic levels in the United States.

Afflicting fully one-quarter of middle-aged Americans, metabolic syndrome is the coexistence of high blood sugar, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and extra fat at the waistline. After menopause, women’s risks go up. So middle age is the “last window of opportunity” to head off illness, Walker stresses.

Tackling the first prong of the metabolic syndrome study, motivational interviewing, is Rebecca Donatelle in Public Health. The second prong, diet and nutrition, is being handled by Melinda Manore in Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

“My role in the study,” says Walker, “is to pay attention to how women’s family lives and responsibilities limit their ability to make changes that would benefit their health.”

For women juggling jobs, kids, husbands and homes, going to the gym usually means dropping something else. And then there’s the eternal question, “What’s for dinner?” When the answer is, “spinach salad,” the groans can be heard in Missoula.

“Women feel they have to keep the machinery of their families running — the psychological machinery, the emotional machinery and the practical machinery,” Walker says. “This research is really about helping women to be self-caregivers.”

Alexis Walker’s Web page

Department of Human Development and Family Sciences

College of Health and Human Sciences

OSU Foundation

National Institute on Aging

Terra article on Melinda Manore

OSU Faculty to Speak at National Gerontology Conference in Dallas (OSU news release 11-1-06)

Tammy Bray enjoys both of the challenges that keep her schedule more than full.

Tammy Bray
Tammy Bray

“I enjoy problem solving, building, moving forward and finding new answers, and those go with both of my jobs,” says Tammy Bray, dean of OSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences and a renowned researcher in health-related fields.

One of her areas of interest is exploring how genes and environment relate to human disease. “You can’t do much about the genes you inherited, but you can affect your health with what you eat and how active you are,” she says. “Many foods have antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that help us shape our environment.”

Cancer and diabetes, for example, “are influenced by diet tremendously. You can reduce the risk by 70 to 90 percent by eating right.”

She serves on the nutrition and physiology external advisory council for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, funded by NASA. The group is working to solve many of the human issues related to a long space flight such as a trip to Mars.
Back at OSU, she tries to ensure that students in her college have an opportunity to learn the excitement of research. “We have a great student research program,” she says. “Undergraduates in the college develop a good relationship with faculty and learn problem solving skills by working on research projects.”

Being the dean of a college with strong educational, research and service programs, takes up a lot of her time, but Bray says she loves the challenge it adds to her academic life. “Oregon State excited me when I came here,” she says. “We have great faculty, great people and a great environment. We have people who are on the same platform, working toward the same thing. That’s not true everywhere.”

And in her “spare” time? Every morning she takes a walk around the campus about 5:30, and when she’s at home, nature provides her with pleasure. “I like being able to spend time in my garden. It gives me great excitement to just wander around or to pick vegetables and make something from them. It’s like somebody gave me a gift, and I feel blessed.”

And, of course, the exercise and good nutrition fit in well with her research findings.

Tammy Bray Web page

College of Health and Human Sciences

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

Katie Briggs devotes her Friday evenings to playing with and helping children who have special needs.

Katie Briggs wants to work in a career in health
Katie Briggs wants to work in a career in health

It’s a typical Friday night for Katie Briggs – a game of tag, teaching kids how to hit a baseball, and playing with a big, colorful parachute. “I just can’t imagine doing anything else with my Friday night,” Katie says. “I love it so much!”

For the past three years Katie, an exercise and sport science senior, has been a volunteer in the IMPACT (Individualized Movement and Physical Activity for Children Today) program, which is run through the College of Health and Human Sciences and is designed to develop important skills for children with special needs.

“My favorite part of the experience has been watching the kids develop over time,” she says. “For example, when I first started working with my child, he was afraid to get in the water. But after a year, he had overcome his fear. The day he got in the pool was one of the happiest days for me.”

Katie has always known that she wanted a career in health. “I chose to attend OSU because of the good programs offered in the College of Health and Human Sciences,” she says. She has also always enjoyed working with children. Through her experience in the IMPACT program and the connections she has made at OSU she has decided to pursue a career in pediatric nursing after graduation.

“I just naturally love to take care of others,” she says. “It’s just what I do!”

IMPACT website

College of Health and Human Sciences website

Exercise and Sport Science website

Childhood obesity is becoming a crisis in Oregon, and OSU professors are working with schools and communities to get it under control.

Childhood obesity is on the rise in Oregon and the U.S.
Childhood obesity is on the rise in Oregon and the U.S.

Although Oregon is considered one of the hungriest states in the nation, 28 percent of 8th graders in the state are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

That means those children probably have a fat-rich, nutrition-poor diet and don’t get enough exercise, which can lead to serious health problems–heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure–that will affect them over their lifespan.

Obese children are likely to become obese adults, and in Oregon the Centers for Disease Control estimates the obesity figure for adults at 60 percent. Clearly the way to reverse the trend is to change the habits of the young.

That’s why the College of Health & Human Sciences and the OSU Extension Family and Community Development Program are working with schools and health practitioners to tailor programs that change nutrition and exercise behaviors of children and their families. Here are some of the programs:

  • Bilingual and bicultural Extension faculty, staff, and volunteers work with Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian, and Russian communities that represent about half of those in limited-income nutrition programs.
  • A school-business-community collaboration in Waldport promotes eating fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking water.
  • Fourth graders in Tillamook are learning the importance of calcium for healthy bones, along with ways to cook calcium-rich foods.
  • More than 450 Spanish-speaking families in Marion County participated in Las Comidas Latinas, an informal course on nutrition and food safety.
  • In Columbia County, nutrition education has elementary school children requesting more fruits and vegetables in their cafeteria.

“We have evidence that shows investments in our children pay off–that early learning and success lead to continued learning and success throughout life,” said Tammy Bray, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “We know, too, that the later we try to repair deficiencies, the costlier it becomes.”

College of Health and Human Sciences website

Extension Family and Community Development Program website

Fighting osteoporosis is a lifelong process, according to researchers at the OSU Bone Research Laboratory.

Jumping can increase bone mass as much as 5 percent
Jumping can increase bone mass as much as 5 percent

Osteoporosis is generally considered only an issue for older people, but researchers at OSU’s Bone Research Lab have found that protection from the disease can start at an early age.

In a recent study, researchers found that a regimen of jumping and other load-bearing activities for children can increase bone mass by as much as 5 percent. “A 5 percent increase may not sound like a lot, but it translates into a 30 percent decrease in the risk of a hip fracture in adulthood,” says Christine Snow, director of the laboratory.

Osteoporosis is a low bone mass disease that reduces bone strength and increases risk of fracture. It’s a significant problem in the United States, and the numbers are startling.

  • Osteoporosis is a serious health threat for 44 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women.
  • In the United States, more than 10 million people have osteoporosis and another 34 million have low bone mass, putting them at increased risk for the disease.
  • One of every two women and one of every four men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.

The Bone Research Laboratory is committed to reversing these trends through a lifespan approach that involves building bone mass during youth and building bone and preventing bone loss in adulthood.

For those most at risk, research at the laboratory has shown that a long-term exercise program with weighted vests reduces hip bone loss and the risk of falling in post-menopausal women.

The laboratory also serves the community by performing clinical bone scans to determine individual risk for fracture and to help people and their physicians determine what treatment might be indicated. All scans require physician referral.

An active education program also is part of the laboratory. Graduate students are actively engaged in teaching and research every year, and there are opportunities for undergraduates to gain practicum and internship experience.

“I came to OSU because of the strong reputation of the Bone Research Lab,” says doctoral student Hawley Chase Almstedt. “The knowledge I have obtained here will enable me to become a professional who can significantly contribute to the field of bone health and osteoporosis prevention.”

Bone Research Lab home page

Ariko Iso, OSU Exercise and Sport Science graduate, is the National Football League’s first female athletic trainer.

Iso is the frist female athletic trainer
Iso is the frist female athletic trainer

When she was 14 and living in Japan, Ariko Iso didn’t appear headed to the NFL–or even to the U.S. Then she suffered an ACL injury playing sports, and during her recovery she had the opportunity to talk to college athletic trainers. That experience convinced her that she wanted to be a Certified Athletic Trainer herself–and that she wanted to go to college in the United States.

At that point, she says, a little luck entered the picture. She and her parents met then-Exercise and Sport Science department head Chris Zauner, who was lecturing in Japan. They talked about the possibility of her attending Oregon State. A short time later she was studying at OSU, receiving her degree in 1993 with an option in athletic training.

She worked as a trainer for college women’s and men’s basketball teams, eventually making an NFL contact at a conference.

Five years later, after a lot of hard work, perseverance, and two summer internships, she was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as an assistant athletic trainer. She’s now in her second year of experiencing life as an NFL trainer.

Pittsburgh Steelers home page

Aerin Holman combines her apparel design major and her love for the theater–with outstanding results.

Holman in her element
Holman in her element

When it comes to theater, Aerin Holman has done it all.

The apparel design major from the tiny Willamette Valley town of Monroe, Oregon, has been involved with OSU’s University Theatre throughout her college career.

“She has acted in a variety of shows and has played major roles,” says Marion Rossi, faculty member in the Theatre. “She also has designed costumes, stage managed, done set design, and even worked in the costume shop.”

It’s costume design, a combination of her major and theater involvement, that has brought her the most acclaim. Working with theater professors Barbara Mason and Charlotte Headrick, Aerin conducted period research and designed all of the costumes for the OSU Theatre production of Henry V. It’s unusual enough for an undergraduate to be given the responsibility for costume design on a main stage production, but she did it so well that she won a regional award for costume design at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

This summer, Aerin is capping off her college career with an internship at the Central City Opera House near Denver, Colorado. A long way from Monroe.

Meanwhile, the OSU Theatre continues its tradition of producing a Shakespeare play each summer. This year’s production of “As You Like It” is scheduled for August 7, 8, 9 and 14, 15, 16, with a revival October 2, 3, and 4.

OSU Theatre home page

Summer Shakespeare play at OSU