A new study by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health found that many women have poor eating habits before becoming pregnant for the first time, meaning their bodies may lack the nutrients needed to promote fetal development and keep the moms-to-be healthy as well.
That is unfortunate news, but it is important to know. Now, thanks to a new initiative at Pitt, the medical profession may be better positioned to address that and other dietary problems contributing to chronic disease. On Monday — the day that the story about the women’s health study appeared on the front page of the Post-Gazette — Pitt announced the creation of a Healthy Lifestyle Institute.
To be based in Pitt’s School of Education, the institute will coordinate health-related research across the university, pioneer behavioral intervention strategies and work to get those techniques into the community so that people use them. There is the potential for tremendous synergy between research and action. For example, having documented the problem of poor diet before pregnancy, researchers next might ponder the question of how to impress upon prospective mothers the need to eat healthier foods. Researchers could develop strategies for helping people overcome common barriers to proper eating, such as a lack of money, time or access to nutrition education or better food choices.
That’s one scenario among a million. The institute also could develop techniques to encourage children to be more active and choose healthier snacks. It could figure out how to goad harried moms and dads into putting more nutritious meals on the table. It could prompt seniors with heart failure to minimize sodium intake and help businesspeople find time in their busy schedules for exercise.
Pitt’s tremendous reach will help the institute push its discoveries and ideas into doctors’ offices and hospitals, and partnerships with schools and nonprofit groups also are planned. This infrastructure is critically important because the experts on the ground — doctors, nurses and social workers — will be best positioned to leverage the institute’s insights for each patient or client. John M. Jakicic, institute director, said that may involve an analysis of “the factors that influence lifestyle — the person’s marriage, occupation, the environment and community.”
Poor diet and lack of exercise are killing Americans. While nothing will turn that around overnight, the institute promises new methods for tackling the crisis. If people can fall into bad habits, they should be able — with the right guidance — to adopt good ones, too.