Group Aims to Improve Measure of Athletes’ Body Composition

Friday, April 24, 2020
UNH Nutrition students winning poster

Tiana DiBenedetto ‘20, Sophie Kenny ‘20, Madeline Quigley ’20 and Briannah DeLorme ’20 have won first place in the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) undergraduate poster category for their research, “Comparison of Relative Fat Mass Equation and Body Mass Index (BMI) in Predicting Body Composition of Male Collegiate Athletes.”

The students, who worked under the guidance of Kevin Pietro, clinical assistant professor of nutrition, had planned to present their poster at this year’s SCAN Symposium in Boston, but the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they submitted the poster and abstract electronically to the judges.

“When SCAN announced that we won, it was positive confirmation that what we did had meaning. It also gave our research group recognition and demonstrated how great the nutrition program is here.”

According to DiBenedetto, the research they presented is important because it highlights an alternative to the body mass index (BMI) scale, a rough estimate of body fat that divides a person’s weight by the square of their height in meters. When applied to athletes, DiBenedetto says, it often leads to them being misclassified as ‘Overweight’ or ‘Obese’.

“We looked a new Relative Fat Mass (RFM) equation to test if it would be a better predictor of body composition than BMI,” she says. “BMI has proved successful in general situations but for unique populations such as athletes, there is a need for something more specific. Research like this is important to the athletic community because we need to find simpler methods of understanding athletes’ body composition without large, expensive machines, such as the BOD POD that we use.”

SCAN is a part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Their mission is to optimize health and human performance through the integration of nutrition with sports, physical activity, cardiovascular health, and well-being.

“Since we are a sports nutrition research group, it seemed very appropriate to submit this research to SCAN,” says DiBenedetto, who will be attending Boston University’s Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetic Internship Program in the fall. “I have been a part of this research group since my sophomore year. Now being a senior wrapping up my collegiate career, I feel like this award validates all our hard work and helps to indicate all the great things that we will do in the future.”

DiBenedetto, Kenny, Quigley and DeLorme are a part of the Advanced Sports Nutrition and BOD POD Research Independent Study group at UNH. With the help of the UNH Athletics dietitian, the six-student group, which is advised by Professor Pietro, calculated a variety of anthropometric measures on athletes, including body composition assessment, which helps inform the clinical decisions of the dietitians working one-on-one with these athletes. Over the last three years, says Pietro, the group has assessed over 170 athletes and presented their research at three national conferences.

Quigley, who will be attending the PharmD program at the University of Colorado Anschutz this fall and plans to become a clinical pharmacist, also sees the award as recognition of the group’s contributions to the UNH athletic community.

“The body composition testing we did also provided student athletes at UNH with knowledge on how to improve or keep up their current lifestyles,” she says. “When SCAN announced that we won, it was positive confirmation that what we did had meaning. It also gave our research group recognition and demonstrated how great the nutrition program is here.”

As for the other two students who also received the honor from SCAN, Sophie Kenny is currently completing her Didactic Program in Dietetics certificate at UNH and will be spending the next two years assisting Professor Sherman Bigornia in his lab.

Briannah Delorme has applied for a job as a nutrition assistant to the dietitian at another university in New England. She also plans to continue to grow her personal training and health coaching business.

“They have all worked hard for years,” says Pietro of the students’ achievement. “It was great to have all that effort formally recognized.”

  • Written By:

    Sarah Schaier | College of Life Sciences and Agriculture