Researcher helps found, advance study of physical activity

February 4, 2014

Editor's Note: The 2013 ASU Regents' Professors will be honored at a special induction ceremony at 4:30 p.m., Feb. 6, in the Galvin Playhouse on the Tempe campus.

When it comes to staying healthy, Americans are sliding down the global health scale. More than two-thirds of the population of the United States is overweight or obese, leading to an increase in the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health complications. Our sedentary lifestyle is partly to blame. ASU Regents' Professor Barbara Ainsworth Download Full Image

Barbara Ainsworth, associate director of the ASU School of Nutrition and Health Promotion and professor of exercise and wellness in the College of Health Solutions, has dedicated much of her career to the public health impact of physical activity.

It’s a fairly new field of study, having grabbed the attention of government researchers only 25 or so years ago.

It was in 1995 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine first recommended individuals get 30 minutes of moderate activity each day. They concluded it would prevent disease, not just enhance cardiovascular health.

It was Ainsworth’s seminal work in developing a tool to accurately measure the intensity of physical activity during various tasks that helped researchers arrive at the conclusion.

She was the lead author of the Compendium of Physical Activities, a work used by researchers around the world to calculate the energy expenditure of activities ranging from gardening to vacuuming to downhill skiing. It is one of the most highly cited references in the United States, and has made her an internationally recognized expert in the field as she continually updates the Compendium online.

First published in 1993, the Compendium was revised in 2003 and 2011, and is the activity measurement tool most widely used by researchers around the globe.

Despite a reputation that makes her in demand as a speaker, Ainsworth remains a prolific and productive researcher and has developed interventions that promote physical activity among vulnerable populations, such as minority women and older adults.

She helped develop Madres para la Salud (Mothers for Health), a study of post-pregnancy Hispanic women that provided a walking program to help them lose weight after a birth. Women were organized into groups for social support and would meet to walk as they pushed their strollers.

Several women in the program lost a great deal of weight, though the average weight loss was small. Her team hopes to conduct a follow-up study adding diet to the program.

“It’s not a social norm for many Latinas to participate in exercise,” and multiple pregnancies without losing weight after birth contribute to the development of obesity in that population, Ainsworth says. “Safety and access are a concern, so they found safe and convenient places to walk in Phoenix.

“The challenge for us as researchers is to understand who needs help the most, and to intervene with people at the lowest levels of physical activity. Extreme poverty is the biggest hurdle, associated with a lack of healthy food and safe places to exercise. People of color and residents of rural areas tend to be most at risk, along with older people.”

An unspoken advertisement for her research, Ainsworth bounds down the stairs to meet an interviewer, squeezing in some time before leaving for a conference in Dubai. She often takes 30 minutes during the afternoon for a brisk walk in the streets of Phoenix, and she tries to ride her horse several times a week and to hike on weekends.

But she sympathizes with people who are confined to their desks at work, or who live in neighborhoods with no safe and convenient places to walk. She advocates public policy changes that would lead to the reengineering of cities with sidewalks and bike lanes, and the provision of neighborhood facilities for youth sports and other supervised activities.

She believes forward-thinking companies will offer opportunities for their employees to be active during the work day, both as an amenity and a way to reduce health insurance premiums.

As the president of the American College of Sports Medicine in 2011-12, Ainsworth met with senators and congressmen to support legislation for physical activity. She pushed for a concussion law that would require children suspected of having a concussion during a sporting event to be removed from play until cleared by a doctor. The law passed in Arizona and in nearly every state nationally.

Currently, she is gearing up to conduct a behavioral risk study with the Arizona Department of Health Services, hoping to engage 800 Arizona residents to wear a pedometer for seven days after they complete a lengthy phone survey.

Keith Lindor, executive vice provost and dean of the College of Health Solutions, says Ainsworth is also a generous collaborator, a supportive mentor of junior faculty and graduate students, and a strong advocate for the advancement of qualified women through the ranks of academia.

“Throughout her career, Dr. Ainsworth has collaborated with individuals across multiple disciplines and professions, demonstrating her commitment to interprofessional research, education and practice,” he says. “Through her work, she addresses one of the most critical societal issues of our times.”

New gift supports actuarial science at ASU

February 4, 2014

The School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University has received a gift provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona to support the school’s new actuarial science program.

The Phoenix-based insurance company has established the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Actuarial Science Scholarship. The company contributed $30,000 to endow the scholarship to support a School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences student specializing in actuarial science. Download Full Image

The scholarship is the first at the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences that specifically benefits actuarial science majors. The school’s new actuarial science program, which is accepting students for fall 2014, will train qualified graduates to earn professional actuarial credentials, thus enhancing the workforce for insurance companies and other organizations. ASU offers the only undergraduate actuarial degree program in Arizona, and one of only a few such programs in the inter-mountain west.

Housed at the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the bachelor of science in actuarial science program was established to give students a strong background in mathematics, statistics and business. Students must pass a series of exams to become certified actuaries. The first several exams can and should be attempted during their undergraduate studies. The remaining exams can be completed while on the job.

“We’re proud to establish this scholarship in support of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences and its students,” said Sandy Gibson, executive vice president and former chief actuary at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, who began her actuarial science career at ASU. A member of the new ASU Actuarial Advisory Board, Gibson added, “By providing support for the students in this new actuarial science degree at ASU, we are investing in the development and growth of the next generation of actuaries.”

Al Boggess, director of the school, said the gift “will help qualified undergraduates pursue this new degree which will prepare them for one of the most lucrative careers in the country. I sincerely thank Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona for their generosity.”

The first Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Actuarial Science Scholarship of $1,000 will be awarded this fall to a full-time undergraduate actuarial science student at the junior or senior level. Recipients will be known as the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Actuarial Scholars.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is the largest Arizona-based health insurance company. The not-for-profit company was founded in 1939 and provides health insurance products, services or networks to more than 1.2 million individuals.

The School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences