A researcher at East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine recently was awarded a grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) to continue her groundbreaking study of the effects that exercising while pregnant has on babies.

The funding through the AHA’s Innovative Project Award will provide Dr. Linda May, an associate professor in the Department of Foundational Sciences, a total of $200,000 over the next two years to provide physical training to pregnant women and then measure the outcomes for the infants.

While research documenting the positive health benefits of exercise for pregnant women is nothing new, May — who is a mother herself — said she was the first researcher to ask the question, “Does baby benefit from mom’s exercise?”

This question is particularly important, May said, considering the current childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 18 percent of children and adolescents in the nation — or about 13.7 million — are obese.

These children are more likely at higher risk for serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breathing issues, joint problems, fatty liver disease and psychological problems.

“So far we’ve seen benefits, so the babies actually are healthier from the mom’s exercise during pregnancy,” May said. “We want to continue that research and see, ‘How healthy are they?’ Is it just heart measures, body composition measures? Is it also neuromotor measures – are they not only leaner, but are they better movers? We want them to be healthy and we want them to be good movers as well as lean.”

Nearly two dozen pregnant women are currently taking part in the study, which expects to enroll about 200 participants throughout the duration of the grant.

Most of the participants in the “ENHANCED By Mom” project are recruited from local OB-GYN offices before they are 16 weeks pregnant. The exercise program — which is free of charge for the participants — begins around 16 weeks and then continues until they deliver.

The participants do not choose what workout programs they take part in; rather, a computer randomly assigns them into different exercise groups. Some of the women take part in more aerobic-type activities while others focus on toning and strengthening-type workouts. Some of the moms-to-be are assigned to a combination of those workouts, while others do more yoga and stretching exercises.

“As soon as a woman is pregnant, she wants to do everything she can to make sure her baby is healthy. Maybe they want to do exercise, but they don’t know what to do,” May said. “We can make sure that they’re doing the appropriate exercises — not only for them, but for their baby — and that they’re doing them in a healthy way.”

After delivery, the participants are asked to return periodically — until the child turns a year old — so staff can get measurements of the child. The AHA grant mostly helps to fund the processing of blood samples drawn from the mothers and babies.

“We take a look at the different hormones and markers to see if we can not only show that babies are healthier, but that they also have a decreased risk for things like heart disease and obesity later in life,” May said.

Access Scholarships make ECU accessible

Jonelle Romero wants to be a dentist.

An Access Scholarship helped her attend East Carolina University, where she excelled in her classes, volunteered locally and shadowed an oral surgeon. The program provides grants to students who demonstrate academic potential and financial need. The $5,000 annual award ($2,500 per semester) covers tuition, fees and books.

ECU profiled Romero, who grew up in Greenville, two years ago as a junior. After graduating, she continued her path to dentistry and is now a first-year student in the ECU School of Dental Medicine.

“Diligence, hard work and being scholarly pays off when the reward is receiving a scholarship to fulfill your dream,” she said .

Other Access scholars have gone on to graduate and medical school, and one is starting a doctorate in physical therapy this spring. With additional resources, the Access Scholarship program aspires to help an even greater number of students and continue to nurture their academic prowess and future success.

Since the program began 12 years ago, it has provided scholarships to roughly 210 students and awarded about $4.1 million, according to director of university scholarships Melonie Bryan.

“Many of these students might not have the opportunity to attend a four-year university without this scholarship, as their demonstrated need might have made the cost of attending a university out of reach,” Bryan said. “We are meeting our mission as an affordable, accessible school and helping raise the profile of our region as many of our scholars are from eastern North Carolina.”

ECU is committed to making education accessible for students who have academic potential but not the financial means to attend the university. More than 9,000 undergraduate students at ECU have demonstrated financial need — the highest number of students in the University of North Carolina system.

ECU College of Nursing earns high marks

The ECU College of Nursing has been ranked the No. 14 nursing school in the United States and the No. 6 public nursing school nationally by Nursing Schools Almanac.

“We collected data on over 3,200 institutions nationwide, and just 3 percent made our list of the top 100 nursing schools in the nation,” said Christopher McMillen, editor-in-chief of NursingSchoolsAlmanac.com

Factors considered for the rankings included the institution’s: academic prestige;

professional designations; grant funding; breadth and depth of nursing programs offered; and student success, particularly on the NCLEX national licensure exam.

After evaluating each nursing school on these criteria, Nursing Schools Almanac weighted the individual scores into one overall score and ranked the schools accordingly.

“This is a true testament to the commitment of our faculty and staff to our students’ success,” said Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the College of Nursing. “It recognizes our efforts to create nurse leaders with a wide variety of specialties to suit the needs of today’s health care environment.”