This summer, three exercise science majors and Taylor faculty member Dr. Matt Renfrow will work with Dr. Shelley Kirk from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which is ranked as the second best children’s hospital in the world, according to the 2018-2019 U.S. News & World Report survey.
As a Professor and the Department Chair of the Kinesiology department, Renfrow is always exploring new opportunities for his students to learn in their respective fields. After deciding a few years ago to get involved in pediatric research, Renfrow reached out to Dr. Kirk, who he said is one of the best pediatric obesity nutrition experts in the world, to bounce some ideas off for a potential program at Taylor.
After many conversations with Dr. Kirk, Renfrow and the Kinesiology department implemented a family-based, pediatric wellness program at Taylor last spring. The program went well and Renfrow received positive feedback, but he wanted to expand the amount of clients so students could gain a breadth of experience.
“Two families is fantastic—it’s a great start,” he said, recalling his thoughts after the initial program, “but I’d love to have 10 or 20 or 50 families sometime down the road.”
So Renfrow decided to revamp the program. He continued talking with Dr. Kirk and observed her work while at her pediatric weight management program, called HealthWorks! Camps Out, at Camp Joy in southeastern Ohio.
He asked her if his students could potentially help out with the camp and she agreed. However, the administrators said that they didn’t have the time or money to get the students through the legal hoops to work directly with the children for the summer 2019 camp. Dr. Kirk and the administrators agreed they would figure out the financial and legal aspects, so the students can be fully on board next year.
Renfrow and the students met with Dr. Kirk to talk about the history of the camp and the struggles it has. “I told [Dr. Kirk] we can help, because basically they have so much demand that they can’t meet the demand,” he said. “They can’t hire enough people, and families can’t afford their stuff because insurance, unfortunately, doesn’t pay for a lot of behavioral issues. So they don’t pay for a lot of preventive medicine.”
This summer, the students will be helping Dr. Kirk develop the curriculum for the program and fine-tune different exercises and activities for the kids attending the camp.Even though the students don't have as much experience as a dietitian or exercise physiologist, they can still contribute to the program, according to Renfrow.
“At the end of the day, what people really need, in my opinion, is they need someone to come alongside of them, love them, not judge them, and give them good information,” Renfrow said. “No, they’re not going to be quite as technical as I am or Shelley is, but frankly, most people don’t need that. They just need continued encouragement to do the good, basic stuff.”
Development may look like creating a fun game that encourages the kids to get up and move around, since the goal is to stay active.
“So the programming puzzle then is how do we make something that is fun, age-appropriate for these kids not super high impact …. [We need to] respect the social dynamic, so [making] sure everyone can participate. It’s inclusive … and just something a lot of fun that the kids would enjoy,” Renfrow said. “That can take a thousand different forms and that’s kind of a task [for] me and my students.”
Renfrow is looking forward to having his students work with Dr. Kirk this summer and emphasized the mutual benefits. He also said it’s probably the most exciting research-related project he’s ever personally worked on.
“It’s just really good stuff for our students, who are already excellent, who already go to some of the best grad schools in the country—in the world, to be honest,” he said. “but this is just another great win for our students and another great win for Taylor.”
Renfrow stressed the community aspect of the camp, especially incorporating a family dynamic to help the children. “I really want to help these kids and their families, because frankly, it’s kind of hard to do one without the other. Kids aren’t self-sustaining, at least young kids. They don’t buy stuff themselves—they drink what they’re given,” he said, “so to help the kids you have to help the family.”