Ms Taren Naidoo, a sports fanatic from Pietermaritzburg, had her Master of Sport Science degree conferred summa cum laude as the result of her study which said “NO” to physical inactivity, obesity and chronic disease in children.

Her research examined salivary C-reactive protein as a marker of inflammation in children from Grades three to seven. The study was conducted in a primary school based in her home town and the results demonstrated that poor fitness levels and/or obesity are associated with elevated levels of salivary C-reactive protein. Elevated C-reactive protein was shown to be an independent predictor of cardiovascular disease risk.

Importantly, the C-reactive protein was measured in saliva samples. Naidoo said collecting saliva from children is non-invasive, stress-free and multiple samples can be obtained throughout the day.

The research showed that even in young children, being unfit and/or obese results in elevated inflammatory status that may place children at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Naidoo’s supervisor, Professor Andrew McKune, Associate Professor of Exercise Science in the College of Health Sciences and Advanced Trainer for Speed, Agility and Quickness (SAQ®) International, said: ‘Further research is required regarding the relationship between elevated salivary C-reactive protein and cardiovascular risk in children. However, the research suggests that in future it may be possible to screen children to predict their cardiovascular disease risk from measuring C-reactive protein saliva samples.’

McKune said Naidoo had made the Discipline proud. ‘She was an enthusiastic and hard-working student who took up the challenge of a difficult research topic and really made it her own. She has a passion for the field of exercise and sport science and is currently flying the flag high for our Discipline at the University of Johannesburg where she currently works as a sports scientist,’ he said.

Naidoo said that with the growing levels of obesity and low cardiorespiratory fitness in children, understanding inflammation, and the methods to reduce inflammation have become important to research.

She said achieving her Masters was “indescribable”. ‘To have come to the end of this chapter in my life with such an achievement is an indescribable feeling ... I’m overwhelmed and ecstatic all at the same time. It still seems surreal.  Achieving something like this is truly a blessing.’

However, she said reaching such a milestone is achievable in anyone’s life ‘if the hard work and commitment is there’.

‘My friends and family were overjoyed, my parents especially. Seeing how proud my parents are has made my entire Masters degree and this whole experience that much more fulfilling,’ she said.

Naidoo is currently working with the South African U21 Women’s Hockey Squad in preparation for their tour to Holland and Germany for the Junior World Cup this year. She plans to further her studies and travel with the national side as their sport scientist. ‘My learning and gains in knowledge in this field do not end here but will continue to grow from strength to strength,’ she said.

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