Athens, Ga. – Richard D. Lewis, professor of foods and nutrition in the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences, has been named to the UGA Foundation Professorship in Family and Consumer Sciences.
“Since joining the College of Family and Consumer Sciences in 1986, Dr. Lewis has excelled in teaching, research and outreach,” said FACS Dean Linda K. Fox. “His research on topics related to bone strength have been on the cutting edge, and he has incorporated the newest research findings into the courses he regularly teaches on life-cycle nutrition and medical nutrition therapy-as well as seeking opportunities for students to engage in service-learning projects.”
Lewis spent his first five years at UGA as a nutrition and health specialist with UGA Cooperative Extension, working specifically on programs related to weight control for adults and healthy lifestyles for children. In 1992, his focus shifted to teaching and research, and he began exploring the impact of gymnastics on female bone strength.
“Soon after I joined the university, I began providing nutritional guidance to our athletes on a volunteer basis,” Lewis said. “When we decided to explore this research question (of gymnastics and bone strength), it was generally thought that the excessive exercise and food restriction that is often found in gymnastics would have a negative impact on bone strength. On the contrary, our research showed that college gymnasts had very dense bones.”
Lewis’s research was one of only two projects on the topic published nationally in 1995, putting him at the forefront of the field. Among the unique aspects of the study was the use of non-gymnast controls.
“We made sure that every gymnast was matched with regard to their age, height, weight and other factors to ensure that we could relate the difference in bone strength to gymnastics rather than other factors,” he said.
Lewis has gone on to measure bone strength in retired competitive gymnasts at the ages of 35 and 45. He is now beginning to look at 55-year-old former gymnasts to gauge whether higher bone strength continues into their menopausal years. He also has looked at children as young as four to determine when bone strength differences begin.
His other research includes pioneering a federally funded study into the role of vitamin D in developing bone strength in children, a topic he will lecture on at a conference in Switzerland, and examining the use of soy isoflavones to counteract menopause-related bone loss in women.
His current research focuses on the role a common virus may play in bone strength among obese children. He also is working with colleagues on additional projects related to UGA’s obesity initiative.
As a teacher, Lewis has developed service-learning projects in relation to his classes. The first, as part of a partnership with the Northeast Georgia Food Bank, had university students providing nutrition education to low-income elderly citizens. A separate project allowed students to serve as mentors to low-income breastfeeding women. He also has incorporated research conducted by graduate and undergraduate students on adolescent obesity prevalence in Trinidad into his life-cycle nutrition course.
“I’m pleased that we have had this opportunity to recognize Dr. Lewis for his contributions to his field of research, the department, the college and the university at large,” said Lynn Bailey, head of the UGA foods and nutrition department.
“I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have the support of my family, colleagues, administrators and graduate students,” Lewis said. “I’m very humbled to receive this professorship and look forward to the opportunities it provides to further the teaching, research and outreach missions of the university.”