Margaret Costa, a kinesiology professor at CSULB, has received a $200,000 grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) to support a consortium of four universities as they study the obesity issue in the United States and Brazil.
“The primary purpose of the U.S.-Brazil consortium is to employ a cross-cultural, ecologically based model to more effectively train future health professionals to address the rising public health concern of obesity,” Costa explained. “This will be accomplished through a bilateral effort from institutions of higher education from different geographic and cultural areas within the United States and Brazil.”
Cal State Long Beach and Kennesaw State University in Georgia are the participating U.S. institutions, and the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, UFSC and Universidade de Pernambuco are the consortium institutions from Brazil. The project is being run in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity and with the support of the Georgia Coalition of Physical Activity and Nutrition, a public policy advocacy organization.
The funds will support 18 students from each country to participate in the exchange program during the four-year project, with the U.S. students studying in Brazil and 18 Brazilian students studying in the United States. U.S. students must commit to studying a minimum of one academic semester (four months) in Brazil, and an equivalent amount of time is expected of Brazilian students traveling to the United States.
In addition, U.S. students will also be encouraged to complete an additional semester of study that includes a field-based internship experience in a local Brazilian community. These internship opportunities will be coordinated by the Brazilian host institutions and will provide U.S. students the opportunity to work in a health-related setting outside of the host institution. Similar internship opportunities for a second semester of study will be provided to Brazilian students by the U.S. host institutions.
“The goal of the U.S.-Brazil consortium is to expand the understanding of the etiology of obesity through a cross-cultural study of the ecological factors that influence obesity rates,” Costa pointed out. “This will help us to infuse lifestyle and environmental comparative perspectives throughout the curriculum to strengthen the understanding of obesity prevention among future health professionals.
“Additionally,” she added, “we also plan to develop and implement country-specific teaching modules that address public policy formation to empower future health professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to work with local, state and federal agencies to promote initiatives or legislation to address the obesity problem.”
Costa has already begun the student recruitment process within introductory courses for the health sciences, which students typically take during their sophomore year. There have been class presentations that outline consortium objectives and promote the host institution/city and the benefits of the cultural experience.
In 2008-09, the second year of the consortium, each U.S. home institution will send two students to the respective Brazilian host and a reciprocal number of Brazilian students will travel to the U.S. host institutions. The number of students will grow to three students from each participating institution in the third year of the program and four students each in the fourth and final year.