Dietetics, Nutrition Programs Mark Anniversaries with Online Celebration, Guest Lecture

By Ben Boulden

College and university leaders spoke on Zoom about the history and achievements of the programs leading up to the 50th anniversary of the post-baccalaureate Dietetics Internship program and the 30th anniversary of the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition program.

A few minutes after the online celebration, Cara Ebbeling, Ph.D., delivered a Zoom presentation covering “Two Decades of Studying Low-Glycemic Load Diets for Weight Control: What do we know in 2022?”

Ebbeling is co-director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at the Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of Pediatrics in the Harvard Medical School.

Anniversaries Celebration

In its 50 years, the internship has educated more than 700 people in preparation for careers as dietitians and more than 100 master’s students in different areas of clinical nutrition.

Faculty, students, alumni, and UAMS leadership joined together March 10 on a live videostream to celebrate the anniversaries.

Faculty, students, alumni, and UAMS leadership joined together March 10 on a live videostream to celebrate the anniversaries.

“Our graduates have touched countless lives through five decades of applied learning, research and community outreach,” said Reza Hakkak, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition. “I am confident we will continue to play a significant role in the advancing health conditions in Arkansas and the nation.”

Hakkak has taught in the department for 30 years, and for 25 of those years served as its chair. He said it was impossible to recount in one presentation all the ways in which he has seen the programs mature and expand, but he shared with the audience one standout moment during an accreditation visit several years ago.

“The Dietetics Internship site visitors reported their findings to the chancellor and leadership,” Hakkak said. “Everyone was in the room, and the chancellor at that time had a page in front of him. He said, ‘This is blank. Where is the report?’ The site visitor said, ‘There is nothing to report. This is an excellent program,’ and they started to talk about the strengths of our program.”

Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, has brought renewed focus to the centrality of healthy nutrition to overall, individual health and well-being, Hakkak said.

Patterson addressed the online audience in a pre-recorded video.

“The work of the dietitians and nutrition specialists graduating from these programs will play key roles in the prevention and treatment of nutrition-related illness and chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease,” the chancellor said. “Nutrition intervention and counseling are important components in health plans in all stages of people’s lives.”

Two years ago, UAMS launched a Culinary Medicine program to teach students and residents how to educate their patients in nutrition and incorporate into their future practice of medicine, building on the many years in which Hakkak and the department’s faculty members did the same with medical and other UAMS students.

“If UAMS is to meet population health objectives in the Vision 2029 strategic plan for reducing health disparities in Arkansas, if we’re to meet the health care workforce needs of our state, and if we are to produce nutrition scientists looking to expand knowledge of food as medicine, we need these programs to keep growing and thriving,” said Stephanie Gardner, Ed.D., Pharm.D., chief strategy officer.

Robert McGehee, Ph.D., dean of the UAMS Graduate School, observed that humankind has been engaged in the study of nutrition since the dawn of time, but the science of nutrition is a relatively new field.

“Only in the last 50 years have we been able to accurately provide information to patients and populations about what is good nutrition,” McGehee said. “Every year we learn so much more that we don’t know. I would argue that nutritional science is still in its infancy. We have a long way to go but what a remarkable anniversary to celebrate today.”

Despite its relatively young life as a science, dietetics and nutrition continues to diversify as a field and find news areas of application.

“Opportunities for the profession are emerging in areas such as marketing, advertising, sales, journalism, sports nutrition and many more,” said UAMS College of Health Professions Dean Susan Long, Ed.D. “As these opportunities expand, the faculty will focus on preparing the next generation of dietetics professionals for these emerging roles. The program continues to adapt and transform to meet students’ and employers’ needs.”

Among the other members of the college’s and department’s leadership and faculty who spoke at the celebration of the anniversaries were Tina Maddox, Ph.D., the college’s associate dean at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus; Courtney Fose, M.S., RD, Dietetics Internship program director; and Lesley Jones, M.S., RD, an instructor in the program.

Nutrition Seminar Series

“I want to say how honored I am to have been invited to present during March 2022, which is National Nutrition Month, the 50th anniversary for the Dietetic Internship program and your 30th anniversary for the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition program,” Cara Ebbeling said during her Nutrition Seminar presentation. “Congratulations and best wishes for many more years of success in Arkansas.”

Hakkak established the seminar series more than 21 years ago to bring the latest findings and knowledge of clinical nutrition to the university’s academic community with language and communications that would be understandable by health care professionals outside of the dietetics and nutrition fields.

Ebbeling said the low-glycemic model that has been the focus of much of her own research. In that model, the quality of the carbohydrates a person consumes plays a key role can promote insulin secretion, which directs metabolic fuels to fat storage.

“There’s an increase in hunger and a decrease in energy expenditure leading to positive energy balance. In this model, a positive energy balance does not lead to an increase in adiposity,” she said.

Although there is much debate between advocates of the “conventional model based on calories in and calories out” and scientists like herself who are exploring the carbohydrate insulin model, there are points of agreement, Ebbeling said. Those are that:

  • Diets varying widely in macronutrient composition can lead to weight loss over the short term.
  • Adherence to any dietary prescription is an important factor determining the effectiveness of weight-loss treatments
  • Treatments to maintain weight loss over the long term are highly ineffective.

A hybrid nutritional plan combining the two schools of thought may help to resolve the debate. Both may work together to promote increased body mass, she said.

In the meantime, Ebbeling said, she does have some specific recommendations for dietary changes for weight loss and overall health. Those include a reduction in the consumption of refined grains, potato products and added sugars, which have a high glycemic load and low nutritional quality.

“We emphasize low glycemic load sources of carbohydrates, including non-starchy foods like legumes and non-tropical fruits,” she said. “We suggest whole kernel or traditionally processed alternatives such as whole barley, quinoa and traditionally fermented sour dough from stoneground flour.”

Ebbeling added that increased consumption of nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and other high fat foods and maintaining adequate but not excessively high protein consumption also will contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

During a question-and-answer session, Hakkak asked Ebbeling if she would advise nutritional education and follow-up consultations with registered dietitians to remind patients to keep losing weight.

“Ongoing support is absolutely necessary,” Ebbeling said. “What we are trying to do with these low-glycemic approaches is to curb hunger and to increase satiety to make it easier to adhere over the long-term. We aren’t saying ‘Here, do this, and the weight will fall off.’ There still is an adherence component, a behavioral health component and environmental influences. If we promote a lower glycemic diet, that doesn’t take away the need for peer support.”