With obesity on the rise throughout the country, Winthrop University is trying to do its part to train the next generation of fitness professionals.
Winthrop is working to establish an undergraduate major in exercise science.
Stevie Chepko, chairwoman for the Department of Health and Physical Education, said she hopes to begin offering the major in the fall of 2009.
"We don't think there will be any roadblocks, but we don't know that," she said.
Six other South Carolina colleges and universities offer undergraduate degrees in exercise science, according to the Commission on Higher Education. Coastal Carolina University will begin offering a major in exercise and sport science in the spring. Other colleges offer programs in health and physical education, sports management and other related fields.
Students majoring in exercise science at Winthrop would enter one of two tracks.
The first would be more science-based and would prepare students to go back to school -- for example, to study physical therapy or to become physician assistants. That track would give students prerequisites for programs at the University of South Carolina or Medical College of Charleston.
The second track would be appropriate for those wanting to work in YMCAs or other fitness complexes, own or operate their own facilities or become strength trainers and coaches. That track would be suitable for those interested in becoming fitness practitioners and those interested in the business side of fitness.
The two tracks will make the major appropriate for students' various ambitions, from personal training to medical school.
"Part of the problem with our fitness and wellness concentration was no one knew what that was," Chepko said. "This will give us a recognized degree to recruit new students into the program."
About 50 students currently are majoring in fitness and wellness. Chepko said she expects the new major to draw another 10 to 20.
Fitness professionals are in high demand, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The department's Occupational Outlook Handbook states that employment of fitness workers is predicted to increase much faster than the average occupation through 2014.
Winthrop also is working toward offering a major in athletic training.
Right now, athletic training is a concentration within the Department of Physical Education.
Switching from a concentration to a major would not require any curriculum or staffing changes, but it would allow the program to be accredited.
"We think it's a good idea because we want all the programs at Winthrop to have national accreditation," said Danne Kasparek, an assistant professor of physical education.
One hundred percent accreditation is a goal for university President Anthony DiGiorgio.
The athletic training major could start as early as next fall.