On Thursday, the University’s Board of Regents approved the creation of the Department of Nutritional Sciences within the School of Public Health.

Currently, there are three existing pathways available to graduate students interested in nutrition that are offered through the Public Health School’s Human Nutrition Program. These three programs are being moved from their current home in the Public Health School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences to the new Department of Nutritional Sciences effective July 1, 2015.

Susan Aaronson, environmental health sciences lecturer, said the Master of Public Health program will stay largely the same, but will become more tailored to nutrition rather than environmental health.

“The only thing that will be slightly different is a couple of the courses that are required for the students to take are administered through our current department, which is environmental health sciences,” Aaronson said. “Since it will now be nutritional sciences, we will focus on nutrition-related topics.”

Karen Peterson, professor of environmental health sciences and director of the Human Nutrition Program, said faculty members already have a few new specializations in mind for the new department, including a focus on sustainable food systems. This initiative will be in collaboration with the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. Peterson said cross-school collaboration will be a priority of the Department of Nutritional Sciences.

“We want to build in even more flexibility into the programs than we have now. Michigan in general is known for having interdisciplinary opportunities,” Peterson said. “One of the areas that we’ve been pushing into is sustainable foods systems.”

Peterson said the department will also emphasize the relationship between physical activity and nutrition. To do this, Peterson said the department will work with the School of Kinesiology.

The third innovative aspect of the program will be a concentration in maternal and child nutrition. Peterson said this specialization is important because it is a significant part of understanding health-related issues, both in the United States and globally.

While there are several degrees available to graduate students interested in nutrition, there are currently few undergraduate opportunities in this field. Aaronson acknowledged this creates an educational gap in regard to undergraduate opportunity.

“We recognize there’s a tremendous need at University of Michigan to do more for our undergraduates related to nutrition.”

Peterson said there is not currently a plan to add a nutrition major to the undergraduate curriculum, but faculty members do hope to establish an undergraduate course in the next couple of years that will focus specifically on nutrition.

Peterson said the Public Health School also wants to garner more undergraduate applicants in its LSA-SPH Sequential 4+1 Sequential Undergraduate/Graduate Studies Program. The SUGS 4+1 Program allows undergraduate students interested in attending the Public Health School to begin their degree at the end of their senior year. Starting early allows students to complete a graduate degree in one year rather than two. Peterson said the Public Health School is looking to increase awareness about the program, and possibly expand it to schools other than LSA.

This year, 63 graduate students are working toward a degree in nutrition. Aaronson said student enrollment will likely increase due to the establishment of the specialized Nutritional Sciences Department and to department faculty plans to increase recruitment efforts. If the number of students increases, Aaronson said the school will need to hire new faculty members.

“As we see our student enrollment grow, that will allow us to open up more lines to hire more faculty members,” Aaronson said. “I think it will be a gradual, sequential process. We’ll try and get two new faculty members hired within the next year.”

Student interest in nutrition is growing as the field itself grows. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in nutrition should grow by 21 percent between 2012 and 2022. Peterson said nutrition is an avenue both for treating health issues such as obesity, as well as preventing other health problems.

“There’s this growing recognition that nutrition is an essential cornerstone to human health,” she said. “When we look at people who have health problems in developing countries, or we look at health problems in the U.S., so many of those are related to nutrition.”

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