Andiara Schwingel, PhD, is assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her professional interests include aging and life course, public health, lifestyle, and well-being of immigrants and ethnic minorities. Her research focuses on how cultural, national, and international factors impact the process of growing older around the world. Schwingel’s research has also examined the impact of transnational migration on a wide variety of health and quality of life outcomes. Active Aging Community Center editors interviewed Schwingel in August 2009.
You have a very interesting background and have studied all over the world. Would you please describe your educational and personal background?
In 2007, I earned my PhD degree in Sports Medicine from the University of Tsukuba, Japan. I am originally from Brazil, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s degree in engineering (focusing on ergonomics), both from the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina.
For the past ten years, my work has focused on the effect of lifestyle on health and chronic disease. My primary research interests are in the areas of public health, disease prevention, and physical activity. More recently, my research focuses on how cultural, national, and international factors impact the process of growing older around the world. My research has also examined the impact of transnational migration on a wide variety of health and quality of life outcomes.
I have worked in Geneva at the World Health Organization and in Singapore at the National University of Singapore, Asia Research Institute. I have traveled widely to collect data and present work at academic meetings and conferences.
You recently became assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Would you describe the courses you teach?
I teach a course called "Introduction to Aging" to undergraduate and graduate students. This is an introductory course intended for students who are interested in learning about aging. This course uses a multidisciplinary approach to provide a comprehensive introduction to the human experience of aging focusing on the physical, psychological, and social changes that occur with age. The course also explores personal and societal attitudes towards aging and focuses on the diversity that is present in the older population. This diversity is the result of differing experiences, behaviors, and cultural, ethnic or religious traditions.
By the end of this course, students have a deeper understanding of the kinds of lives that older adults lead. The knowledge, skills, and attitudes the students gain as a result of this class will not only extend their academic understanding of aging but will likely also provide them with information that may be applicable to their own family, workplace, and community.
What research are you conducting now?
I am coordinating the Aging and Diversity Lab (ADL) that has its focus on the study of aging across the lifespan and population diversity. The mission of the ADL is to study the process that leads to healthy aging, optimizing well-being and independence as people age.
I am working on the conception phase of a study that will examine older adults from minority groups with a mission of understanding the cultural context in which people live in order to promote healthy communities across various social groups.
Minority populations are especially inactive and report having fewer opportunities and less access to physical activity. A single physical activity program or intervention is unlikely to work well in all populations, and there is a need to "individualize" physical activity to meet the needs and preferences of various subgroups of the population. It is increasingly clear that effective interventions will need to take into account the "cultural context" in which physical activity operates in different ethnic subgroups. My research seeks to examine how physical activity is interpreted in various Latino/Latina groups. There is more information at http://www.kch.uiuc.edu/labs/active-aging/default.htm.
What is the best part about your job?
The opportunity to work on interesting research questions while interacting with wonderful students and colleagues and research participants in the community.
What has been the biggest breakthrough in your career?
My most important study to date has been my investigation of the impact on cultural and lifestyle factors in the health and well-being of immigrants. This was my first externally funded study and led to some important publications.
Based on your experience, what is the most significant advancement in your field? Why?
An understanding that cultural and ethnic factors are likely to play an important role in determining the effectiveness of public health intervention in the area of chronic disease prevention.