Appetite for transformation

Marketing and Communications

by Kathleen Lawry

First lady Michelle Obama brought the obesity epidemic to the forefront in 2010 with her Let's Move! campaign aimed at putting children on the path to a healthy future.

Just as the first lady is working to transform a culture, so too is Dr. Mary-Jon Ludy, assistant professor in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences.

And Ludy's efforts aren't going unnoticed. Ludy, a registered dietitian was one of 20 promising early career nutrition scientists selected for the Dannon Institute's 2013 Nutrition Leadership Institute (NLI) held in June.

The Dannon Institute created the NLI to exemplify its commitment to the development of leadership in nutritional sciences and the promotion of excellence in research. The intensive five-day training program is designed to provide participants with strategies for improving their ability to lead others in both their place of employment and in the field of nutrition.

Applicants were evaluated for the quality of their training and research accomplishments as well as for their individual potential to become future leaders in nutrition.

"One of the great things about BGSU is that we have lots of first-generation college students. We are able to provide many students with their first exposure to science and it's something that can really whet their appetite for discovery." "Being selected for the Dannon Nutrition Leadership Institute is a great honor for Dr. Mary-Jon Ludy," said Deborah Wooldridge, director of the School of Family & Consumer Sciences. "The selection process validates her research contributions at a national level as well as the importance of her research agenda. Dr. Ludy was an excellent hire and brings to the program a strong research agenda, a collaborative skill set, which benefits students and faculty across campus."

Ludy applied for a spot in the Institute because she believed it would open doors for achieving her professional potential as a transformative leader, successfully funded researcher and inspirational teacher.

"I felt the Institute would help me transform the culture at BG in a positive way," Ludy said. "One of the great things about BGSU is that we have lots of first-generation college students. We are able to provide many students with their first exposure to science and it's something that can really whet their appetite for discovery."

Her hope is that by promoting an early interest and appreciation of research among future nutrition professionals, a ripple effect will occur enriching students' lives and moving the field forward.

This ripple effect appears to be well underway as Ludy has involved a number of students in her research, and has assisted with the SETGO (Science, Engineering & Technology Gateway Ohio) Summer Research program, which provides undergraduate students full-time lab work alongside faculty mentors.

Ludy also serves as principal investigator in studies focusing on the effects of chili peppers on weight management and the patterns and composition of weight gain in college students, and she is a co-investigator for a project about stepped-care approaches to obesity treatment that is currently under grant review.

"I enjoy collaboration among faculty members in other areas and I am passionate about providing opportunities for students to become engaged in the process," Ludy said. And students appear to be just as excited to be involved.

"Honestly, I brag about having Dr. Ludy as my thesis advisor to other students and friends because of the opportunities she's given me," said Ryan Leone, master's student dual majoring in food & nutrition and kinesiology. Assisting Ludy on the patterns and composition of weight change in college students project has provided Leone invaluable experience in data collection, real-life instruction on statistical analysis, abstract writing and the grant writing process.

"Honestly, I brag about having Dr. Ludy as my thesis advisor to other students and friends because of the opportunities she's given me,"Ludy's chili pepper research proved that pungent peppers increase energy expenditures and aid in suppressing appetite at the next meal. To date, this research yielded four published, peer-reviewed journal articles for which Ludy is the first and primary author. She has also presented preliminary findings at meetings of the American Society for Nutrition, the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior and the Association for Chemoreception Sciences. Additionally, she has provided numerous popular press interviews, for example The New York Times, PBS, the BBC, Everyday Food, Shape, and Woman's World. Ludy and her team are now studying the impact of non-pungent peppers.

Ludy, Leone and Dr. Amy Morgan, associate professor in the School of Human Movement, Sport & Leisure Studies, are working on a study that analyzes the patterns and composition of weight change in college students. Based on pilot data, freshmen gain about four pounds in their first 10 to 12 weeks on campus. Men tend to gain about three more pounds through the holiday season, while women plateau.

"We prepared an abstract and poster for the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, which took place two weeks ago, and I presented the poster," said Leone. "I don't think I would have done that this soon in my graduate career without the guidance of Dr. Ludy." Although the study is in its early stages, Leone recognizes the positive impact that can be made regarding the health of BGSU students-and for that matter, college students across the country.

"We are seeing far too many risk factors for chronic disease in college students and hopefully our research will help us pinpoint which are most prevalent," Leone said. "This information can help guide BGSU in developing appropriate interventions and prevention programs to improve the health of our students."

Ludy recently began a partnership with Dr. Robert Carels, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Dr. Lynn Darby, professor in the School of Human Movement, Sport & Leisure Studies. They have applied for grant funding to explore stepped-care approaches to obesity treatment.

Although busy balancing research, teaching and service, Ludy returns from the Institute feeling renewed and possessing a greater sense of purpose.

"I spent the days digging deep into myself and the evenings chatting with the preeminent minds in the field of nutrition," Ludy said.

"I walked away from the Institute learning that behavior is contagious," she said. "I want to be a transformative person, inspiring others with healthy, effective, proactive behaviors. I want to strengthen and build myself, my students, my colleagues, my profession and my university in positive ways."

With three research projects currently in the works, each of which involves current students and collaboration across disciplines, Ludy is well on her way to becoming the transformative leader, successfully funded researcher and inspirational teacher she aspires to be.

Stay tuned as Ludy and other BGSU faculty join the first lady in the fight against obesity.

(Posted July 8, 2013 )