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male student meets with young girl client at Live Well

Exercise Science Majors Help Kids Live Well

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young girl meets with Ian Hunt at a table

Exercise Science majors choose to study kinesiology—the science of movement—because they are fascinated with the way the human body works and want to help people experience greater freedom of movement and health. But getting direct experience with clients or patients as undergraduates is rare. At Taylor University, junior Ian Hunt began working with pediatric clients in the Live Well program as a freshman, first presented research at a kinesiology conference as a sophomore, and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. 

Live Well 

Live Well is a family-based clinical program in partnership with Marion Pediatrics, a pediatrician practice in nearby Marion. Supervised by faculty, students coach children ages 5-18 and their families to create and sustain healthy movement, dietary, and sleep habits. According to the CDC, almost 20% of children and adolescents struggle with obesity, putting them at risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions that can decrease quality of life.  

Hunt was invited to participate in the program by Kinesiology professor Dr. Matt Renfrow in 2020. Also from Marion, Hunt was interested in the opportunity to work directly with patients and in being able to help coach kids to develop healthier habits that would impact them for many years to come. 

“We practice motivational interviewing, asking lots of open-ended questions. We want them to learn to be intrinsically motivated to make the changes,” said Hunt. “Along the way I’ve been able to form so many great relationships with these children. They’ve been a blessing to me, honestly.”

For each child referred to them by Marion Pediatrics, Hunt and other students involved in Live Well develop a customized 11-week plan to build health habits in four target areas: physical activity, sedentary behavior, sleep, and nutrition. They also do an initial assessment of physical health and another assessment upon completion of the program. 

“With kids, the goal is not to lose weight,” said Renfrow, explaining the need to avoid developing an unhealthy relationship with food or a preoccupation with scales. “We want the BMI to essentially stay stable as they make healthy adjustments to activity levels, sleep, and nutrition, and allow them to grow into their weight.” 

And it’s working. In case studies they have done, the research is showing BMI remaining constant, average hours spent in front of screens decreasing, and activity levels increasing, all while being mentored and supported by compassionate, knowledgeable help from the Live Well team. 

Research in Childhood Obesity

Now two years old, the Live Well program has graduated 24 kids and their families. Although these numbers may seem low, compared to nationally-known health programs, Taylor is a front runner in the area of undergraduate kinesiology students conducting research on pediatric clients. 

“It’s free to families, it’s on-site in a doctor’s office, and it’s run by undergraduate students,” said Renfrow. “No one else is doing that.”

For the last two years, Hunt and Renfrow have presented their research at two annual conferences of Christian Society for Kinesiological, Leisure, and Sports Studies. Hunt was the youngest participant and presenter at the most recent conference this past summer.

“There’s nothing that I did to deserve to be there,” said Hunt. “It’s all the Lord. He used Dr. Renfrow, opening up that opportunity as a freshman in class. To go from that interaction to where I was at presenting was quite humbling. It was really cool, really fulfilling to fellowship with so many other like-minded individuals in the field.”

In early November 2022, Renfrow, Hunt, and fellow Exercise Science student Seth Culham presented in San Diego, California, at the annual conference of The Obesity Society, a leading professional association focused on the treatment and prevention of obesity. 

What’s Next

After Hunt graduates in 2024, he plans to earn a doctorate in physical therapy, with the goal to pursue a practice in pediatric physical therapy. He wants to help kids who have physical disabilities, whether through illness or injury. Hunt played sports throughout his childhood and on the Taylor JV soccer team, and he values the freedom that comes with a healthy body. 

“The ability to move is a gift from the Lord,” he said. “I’ve always had a heart for the disabled, and when I discovered that pediatric physical therapy would allow me to work with disabled children and be involved in the study of the body, that’s what I chose to do.”

Hunt isn’t the first Live Well participant to work towards a career in physical therapy. Taylor Berry ‘20 is close to completing her graduate program at the prestigious Washington University. Renfrow is looking at more ways to expand the Live Well program at other locations in order to serve more families and allow more students to have the same direct impact on patients. 

“At Taylor, research feeds the teaching process,” said Renfrow. “It’s more than (the meaningful) lab-based physiology work; it is service. This is servant-leadership as research, and applying that Taylor ethos to our field.

Explore Exercise Science at Taylor

Hunt offers advice to high school students interested in a possible career in physical therapy: “Develop a good work ethic now. Ask questions in class and prioritize schoolwork, viewing it as an opportunity rather than a burden.”

Exercise Science majors have access to state-of-the-art facilities in Kesler Student Activities Center, including the aquatics wing, indoor track, fitness center, and 900+ square foot human performance lab. Faculty have industry experience and are committed to mentoring students every step of the way. Schedule your campus visit today.