Feature published Feb. 23, 2021
Daheia Barr-Anderson joined ACSM nearly 20 years ago when her Ph.D. advisor Debbie Rohm Young, Ph.D., FACSM, told her networking and professional meetings were essential for growth. Nine months after that initial conversation, Daheia found herself in San Francisco presenting for the first time at ACSM’s Annual Meeting.
She recalls her first experience with ACSM. “I felt so out of place. My research focused on a public health perspective to physical activity, and at the time, ACSM seemed to concentrate heavily on basic and applied exercise science. Aspects of diversity felt few and far between. It was the expectation for me to attend and present, so I did. I am so glad that I didn’t let that first experience with ACSM define my future relationship with the college.”
Daheia continued to attend and present at more and more meetings. She networked with colleagues from diverse disciplines, and she volunteered her time and expertise to serve on multiple committees. When Daheia was selected in the first class of the Leadership & Diversity Training Program, she felt as if she’d found her place – and professional home – at ACSM.
ACSM staff recently connected with Dr. Barr-Anderson to learn more about her research, how the college has diversified through the years and the role she has played in ACSM's growth.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and research?
As a native South Carolinian, I earned my B.S. in Biology from Winthrop University in Rock Hill in 1998 and my MSPH in Epidemiology from the University of South Carolina in 2000. I held a two-year Minority Health and Disability Statistics Fellowship with the National Center for Health Statistics before I received my Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Maryland College Park. After a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in Adolescent Health, I started a tenure-track assistant professor position. I am currently a tenured associate professor in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota and director of the Behavioral Physical Activity Lab (BPAL).
My research focuses on the behavioral aspects of physical activity, sedentary behaviors and obesity prevention in youth and adults. I am particularly interested in home- and community-based, environmental interventions that incorporate both physical activity and nutrition to achieve healthy outcomes and to decrease racial/ethnic health inequalities. My current projects include: 1) explore the factors within the home activity and food environments that interplay with individual and interpersonal factors to contribute to overweight and obesity in African American girls ages 4-8 years, and 2) examine the use of yoga to address cardiovascular risk factors in sedentary African American women.
Who or what inspired your research focus?
Before I can answer what inspired me to pursue my research interests, I must first tell you why I even wanted to pursue a career as an academic researcher and professor. When I started my MSPH program, I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 21-year-old who had no idea what she wanted to do or be but was enthusiastic about the prospects. Barb Ainsworth, ACSM Fellow and past president, and one of my first professors at the University of South Carolina, can attest to this. We still chuckle about some of our first encounters.
A series of events during my master’s program planted the seed for me to pursue a research career and highlighted the importance of diversity and representation among college professors. As to wanting to focus on physical activity, my husband Rodney credits himself for planting that seed! He said to me, you like to exercise so why don’t you study exercise? That statement did get me thinking. During my minority health and disability statistics fellowship after my master’s program, I examined health differences between U.S.-born and foreign-born Blacks. Hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity were some of the health conditions I studied and using physical activity and exercise for prevention and treatment were recurring themes. It was at that point I decided that I wanted to study physical activity. My focus sharpened during my doctoral studies.
Why did you initially get involved in ACSM?
For my first two degrees, I was in a college of Biological Sciences and then in a School of Public Health. I had never heard of ACSM until I started my doctoral studies. One month into my Ph.D. program, my advisor Debbie Rohm Young says to me that presenting and networking at professional meetings are essential to my growth as a young professional and the abstract deadline for ACSM is November 1. Nine months later, I was in San Francisco presenting for the first time at the annual meeting.
I remember feeling so our of place and excluded at that meeting. First, my research focused on a public health perspective to physical activity, and at the time in 2003, ACSM seemed to concentrate heavily on basic and applied exercise science. Additionally, I am an African American woman and the membership seemed to be dominated by white men. Aspects of diversity felt few and far between. But, it was the expectation for me to attend and present at ACSM, so I did. I am glad that I did not let my first experience with with ACSM define my future relationship with the college. As I attended and presented at more and more meetings, networked with colleagues from diverse disciplines and served on various committees when selected in the first class of the Leadership & Diversity Training Program, I saw that I truly do have a place in the future of ACSM.
I remember when Melicia Whitt-Glover became the first black female Fellow of ACSM, and now I serve on the ACSM Board of Trustees under the leadership of NiCole Keith, the college’s first Black female president. Over the years, there have been presidents and other leaders who not only said that they valued diversity, but invested in infrastructure, programs and sweat equity to make it a reality. I have had the amazing experience to witness the growth of ACSM with the diversification and expansion of both its membership and its research scope.
You have been very active since you joined ACSM, serving on multiple committees and interest groups as well as participating in the Leadership & Diversity Program. How have these activities helped you and why they are important?
One can see that a theme to much of my work with ACSM has to do with diversity, which I deeply believe in. As ACSM grew and evolved, I wanted to be a part of the change. As opportunities arose, I expressed interest. The decision to make ACSM my professional home has been one of the best choices of my career.
How can ACSM members and certified professionals continue to work together to address inequality and underrepresentation in health care and fitness?
For me, as we are at such a pivotal time in history in which there is a strong and steadfast interest to truly address societal inequalities and inequities, the question is not “how can we” but “how can we not” work together.
How has ACSM positively impacted your career?
ACSM has been the foundation of several professional development experiences and the heart of my professional network. The college has truly helped shaped my career.
What’s one thing other ACSM members might be surprised to know about you?
I don’t know if my fellow ACSM members would be surprised, but I hope to run my first ultramarathon in May! Inspired by fellow ACSM member and friend, Olivia Affuso, I signed up for the Ice Age Trail 50K in Wisconsin for 2019 but could not run it due to health issues. I deferred until 2020, but you know, COVID-19 happened. Hopefully, the third time truly is a charm as I am planning on running the race with two of my doctoral students.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to share my story with the ACSM community.