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Bouvé professor’s expertise is healthy for Boston

Associate Professor of Health Science Carmen Castaneda Sceppa is bringing her expertise to two of Northeastern University’s most important community partnerships, which is saying something, considering she has almost literally written the book on exercise and good nutrition for three national health organizations.

In 2006, Sceppa’s research was one of two evidence-based studies used by the American Diabetes Association to adopt new exercise guidelines for people with diabetes.

Based on those same research findings, she was invited by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine to serve on a panel to discuss the benefits of exercise in older adults. The resulting report led both organizations to revise their guidelines for daily exercise in 2007.

Now, Sceppa is engaged in the Stony Brook Initiative program Health Kids, Healthy Futures, aimed at combating childhood obesity through a partnership among Northeastern, the Boston Red Sox and Children’s Hospital Boston. The community-based health initiative also involves the Boston Public Health Commission and the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, and Action for Boston Community Development Head Start programs.

Working with Jessica Blom-Hoffman, professor of counseling and applied psychology, and Meredith Harris, professor and chair in the physical therapy department, the message of good nutrition and physical activity will be instilled in young children, their families and caregivers through various programs and activities, said Sceppa, who came to Northeastern in January 2008.

“If we can influence good nutrition and fitness in the young, we stand a better chance for these healthy lifestyle choices to be adopted for life,” she said.

In addition, she is embarking on an effort to encourage exercise and better nutrition through collaboration with Boston-based La Alianza Hispana, a nonprofit agency serving the Latino community. She will apply her findings to senior and community centers run by La Alianza Hispana by creating opportunities and providing tools for people who use those facilities to improve their lifestyle.

“If we could put exercise in a pill, it would give us tremendous benefits,” she said. “My findings have shown exercise and good nutrition is preventative, and is also helpful in managing diabetes and obesity.”

New guidelines suggest an individual should perform 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise five days a week, and that those looking to lose or maintain body weight, need 60 to 90 minutes of more vigorous exercise.

Sceppa, who holds an M.D. from a medical school in Guatemala, became an expert on the benefits of exercise and good nutrition after studying their positive effects on research participants. “First, I studied the physiological changes that occur in older adults, such as loss of muscle mass and increase of fat, and how these common factors can lead to diseases like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems,” she said.

When she introduced regular exercise, which included weight-bearing routines, and added good nutritional standards, she found that the overall health of older adults improved, and with patients already coping with disease, she found their diseases were better controlled, she said.

“We found that our patients with diabetes needed less medication to control their disease when they exercised and ate well,” Sceppa said. “The beneficial effects were greater than taking diabetes meds, because they not only improved their disease but their overall physical and mental health.”

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