Lauren Ptomey, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.
Assistant Research Professor | The University of Kansas Medical Center
In honor of World Autism Month, we introduce you to ACSM member Lauren Ptomey, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., who is actively promoting weight management and physical activity in individuals with ASD and those with other intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
As a registered dietitian, Lauren has always felt compelled to help underserved populations at high risk of nutritional deficiencies or obesity. She fell in love with working with these populations during her dietetic internship.
Lauren currently serves as assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at The University of Kansas Medical Center. Her research focuses examining the impact of physical activity (PA) on body composition, cognition and metabolism in individuals with IDD and ASD. She is also principal investigator on four NIH-funded research studies examining the best ways to promote weight management and physical activity in adolescents and adults with IDD and ASD. One study is examining if physical activity, delivered remotely over video conferencing, can increase weekly minutes of physical activity and cardiovascular fitness in adults with Down Syndrome and if increases in physical activity and fitness have any impact on the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
ACSM staff recently asked Lauren a series of questions to learn more about her research, advice for students and how ACSM membership has helped her.
- Why did you choose your area of research?
While working toward my Ph.D., I became a graduate research assistant for a research group that was doing one of the first large-scale weight loss studies in adults with IDD, including those with ASD. This experience led me to conduct my dissertation research doing a weight loss study in adolescents with IDD and ASD. The results of both studies demonstrated that adults and adolescents with IDD and ASD can lose clinically significant weight; however, they had minimal to no changes in their physical activity levels. Additionally, I discovered there were no interventions examining ways to promote physical activity in individuals with IDD or ASD. Wanting to fill this research gap, I decided to pursue a Postdoctoral Fellowship with a physical activity focus.
During my postdoc, I gained a deep appreciation for the field of sports medicine, became an advocate for exercise is medicine, and began to conduct my own research examining different strategies for promoting physical activity in individuals with IDD and ASD.
- What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your work?
I feel most fulfilled when I get to work with the individuals and families involved in our research studies. My team and I have built great relationships with the families. Individual participants have told us how our research studies have improved their health, improved their gross motor skills and even allowed them to improve social skills and make new friends. It’s truly rewarding to see our research make a significant difference in people’s lives – even beyond the core scope of our studies.
- What advice do you have for students or professionals entering the field?
When choosing where to do your Ph.D. or Postdoctoral Fellowship, pick a position based on your primary mentor and not just the research you would be doing there. In the long run, a supportive mentor is far more valuable than a research project that excites you. A good mentor will make the effort to support your personal research interests and find ways to incorporate it into whatever research they may have going on.
- How has ACSM membership helped you?
I come from a strictly nutrition-focused background, and until my Postdoctoral Fellowship, I had never been exposed to sports medicine research. My ACSM membership has allowed me to connect to professionals in this field from around the world, helped expand my knowledge of sports medicine and provided me with valuable resources that have strengthened my research.
- What's one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I am a strong proponent of women in sports medicine and STEM. The first R01 I ever received funding for was submitted while I was on maternity leave. It is definitely possible for women to be successful researchers and still have a family.
- Anything else you'd like to add?
You can learn more about the translational research we are conducting in individuals with special needs here.
Want to share your work in a future feature? Simply complete this Meet the Member online questionnaire or nominate a fellow member.