UNMC obesity expert recognized for school design that promotes healthy eating

Receives architectural award in Virginia last month

A childhood obesity expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center was one of the leaders of a team that received national attention for a revolutionary architectural design of an elementary school that promotes healthy eating. 

Terry Huang, Ph.D., chairman and professor of health promotion, social and behavioral health, UNMC College of Public Health, accepted the Design Research and Scholarship prize last month at the Virginia Society of the American Institutes of Architects annual meeting in Richmond. He was honored for his commitment to extending the boundaries of the architectural profession.

 The design covers the entire school, from kitchen and cafeteria to edible landscapes, water access and signage. These design elements have been incorporated into the new Buckingham County Primary and Elementary School in a rural, ethnically diverse school district in central Virginia. The school district embraced the goal of creating an optimized 'healthy eating' learning environment in addition to the goal of creating an energy-efficient building.

 This work was recognized for encouraging theoretical awareness, educational exchange, thought and research in architecture, both within academic institutions and architectural firms. His paper, “Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture (HEDG),” will soon appear in a peer-reviewed journal, Preventing Chronic Disease, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 The design presents a new practice-oriented tool to help prevent childhood obesity, Dr. Huang said.

 “School design is known to impact student behavior, development and academic performance. The school food environment also can impact children’s eating behaviors,” he said.

 “We’ve created an environment that enables schools to provide healthy foods and encourages healthy eating among children and have defined a set of theory- and evidence-based best practices that will inspire further research and application,” Dr. Huang said.

 The guidelines were developed over the course of a multi-year collaboration between Dr. Huang and Leah Frerichs, third-year graduate student in Health Promotion Disease Prevention Research, UNMC; Matthew Trowbridge, M.D., at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville; and VMDO Architects, a nationally recognized leader in sustainable school design based in Charlottesville.

 The project was inspired by a publication from Dr. Huang in the scientific journal Obesity in 2007 and the prior school design work of VMDO. The award was one of several honors that the HEDG recently received. The other honors include:

  • Presentation at the Green Health: Building Sustainable Schools for Healthy Kids Conference in October 2011, sponsored by the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research, National Academy on Environmental Design, and the U.S. Green Building Council; and
  • Presentation at The Obesity Society annual meeting in San Antonio two months ago.

 Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.



Liz Kumru
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-4691

Tom O'Connor
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-4690 (office)
(402) 650-7063 (cell)