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The Catalyst

Student group promotes weight management interventions

By Ashley Barker
Public Relations

The MUSC student group “Improved Access to Weight Management” offers students from all six colleges the chance to learn evidence-based weight management interventions that they can provide to their future patients.

The group, which began its second academic year in September, was started by the collective efforts of Rebecca Knackstedt, Tonya Turner and Josh Brown, Ph.D.

Knackstedt, a graduate student pursuing an M.D., Ph.D., volunteered at the student-run CARES Clinic in Mount Pleasant two years ago and was a member of its board of directors.

“I noticed that so many of the patients could have benefitted from a nutritional intervention because they were suffering from things like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and had no understanding of healthy ways to eat,” Knackstedt said.

She tried to implement a series of nutrition classes using a curriculum developed at the Weight Management Center, but the high turnover in patients and volunteers made it difficult.

Brown, a psychologist and director of Clinical Services and Training at the MUSC Weight Management Center, along with Turner, a Weight Management Center registered dietitian, approached Knackstedt about creating a student group on campus to accomplish a two-fold mission.

“Creating this student group has allowed us to work toward two very important missions: one, to better and experientially teach our future health care providers how to effectively treat one of the most prominent medical diseases they’ll face, and two, have these students go into the community and deliver an evidence-based obesity intervention to folks who arguably need it the most, but who can least afford it,” Brown said.

There is very little emphasis on nutrition in medical school in particular, according to Knackstedt. The nutrition-focused information that students receive comes in the form of “Obesity Day,” which is a single-day of lectures devoted to obesity-related issues put on by the Weight Management Center (in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences) once a year for second-year students.

“Pretty much whatever specialty students go into, they’re going to be faced with people who need to learn about eating healthy,” Knackstedt said. “Whether they’re in family practice or radiology, there are patients who might require an intervention and doctors need to be empowered to talk to those patients about their diet and exercise, and have a foundation of knowledge that they feel comfortable talking about with their patients.”

L.E.A.N. for Life logo

Brown and Turner, the group’s supervisors, teach student members how to deliver a 10-week weight loss class to community members who fall below a specific income level. The community class is named LEAN (Lifestyle + Education + Activity + Nutrition) for Life.

“I really enjoyed working with the students. We were lucky to have an enthusiastic group that was truly interested in weight management and improving the health of the participants involved in the program,” Turner said. “I hope that the group will continue to grow in the upcoming year.”

The MUSC student group meets once a week, and Brown and Turner use observational learning to teach students the material for the upcoming week.

“By teaching the students as though we were teaching the actual weight loss class, they’re able to see firsthand how to cover the class material for the actual community participants,” Brown said. For maximal student engagement, each group meeting is recorded and posted in an online classroom for students to review.

Starting this year, participation in the group will count towards fulfillment of the MUSC Interprofessional Education Fellowship requirements.

Jake Bowers, who is also an M.D., Ph.D. student, said he joined the group because he loves fitness and teaching.

“This group appealed to me because it was a proactive solution to the health dilemma of the poor demographic in our country,” he said. “I see a great deal of benefit coming not only to the individuals that participate in the class, but their families, friends, and I see the benefits spreading to our community in decreasing the burden on a strained health care system.”

A total of 20 participants enrolled in the LEAN for Life program in April. At the conclusion of the 10-week class there were nine who officially completed. They achieved an average weight loss of 4.2 percent. This is impressive weight loss from such a low-intensity and short program, and both the attrition and weight loss are in line with the other 10-week weight loss programs provided by the MUSC Weight Management Center, according to Brown.

“The group of participants we had were truly engaged into the program,” Turner said. “They were excited to attend the classes each Saturday to not only weigh in and see their progress but also to discuss and exchange strategies for successful lifestyle change with the leaders and other participants. It was a great experience to see such a diverse group of people come together and really support one another.”

Anyone interested in taking a LEAN for Life class may call 792-5577 or email MUSC students should email

September 18, 2013

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