CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has received a four-year, $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train doctoral students who will develop or run university-level teacher education programs aimed at providing quality adapted physical education and community-based fitness programs to persons with disabilities.

This is the only grant of its kind in the nation this year and the decline of funding has educators concerned, said Jeff McCubbin, interim dean of the College of Health and Human Performance at OSU.

"Much of the focus has been on helping students with disabilities function in an academic setting, and certainly that is understandable," McCubbin said. "But research is showing that physical activity and improved fitness can play a critical role in helping persons cope with a variety of disabilities and there may be significant psychological benefits as well."

OSU has become a national leader with its Movement Studies in Disability Program, which is within the Department of Exercise and Sport Science. The program has received federal funding to train doctoral students for the past dozen years and it boasts a 100 percent placement for its graduates, who have gone on to run training programs at other universities around the nation, and around the world.

There is a growing appreciation for the benefits of a fitness regimen for persons with disabilities, said McCubbin, who directs OSU's Movement Studies in Disability Program.

The report "Healthy People 2010" specifically targets the need for health and wellness programs for that population, McCubbin said. The previous report, 10 years ago, made no mention of persons with disabilities, other than saying little was known about the status of fitness in many disabled populations.

The recent Surgeon General's report singled out American children as generally overweight and inactive, focusing more attention on the need for fitness programs for youths. Children who have disabilities are at even greater risk for additional health problems due to inactivity, McCubbin said.

"Historically, many persons with disabilities have been discouraged - or face barriers that discourage them - from participating in any kind of fitness program," he said. "Consequently, they are more inactive and have more problems with obesity than the general population. That leads to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems."

Many of those old taboos are changing, in part because of research at OSU and elsewhere. Persons with multiple sclerosis, for example, have for years been discouraged from exercising. Fatigue and heat are known to exacerbate the disease's symptoms.

However, recent research shows that a carefully monitored fitness regimen can help persons with MS function better physically and have a better mental outlook, McCubbin said.

With the grant, OSU will train five doctoral students each year, and collaborate with the University of Utah, where two additional students will be trained. These Ph.D. students will conduct research, take courses, and work in outreach settings, including OSU's popular Special Physical and Motor Fitness Clinic. The clinic, held weekly throughout the school year, brings 80 mid-Willamette Valley youths and young adults with disabilities to campus for an educational physical activity program.

"Our doctoral students run the program and work with undergraduate and master's degree students, as well as with the kids in the clinic," McCubbin said. "And when they graduate from OSU and join the faculty of other universities, they often end up starting the same kind of program there."

OSU faculty members working to direct the students in this doctoral training program include McCubbin, Joonkoo Yun and Steve Hannigan-Downs, all from the Department of Exercise and Sport Science.

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Jeff McCubbin, 541-737-3256