women showing off craft kitsKids who are physically active tend to be healthier. That’s long been known. Now, thanks in part to the work of volunteers at APHA’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo, researchers will be exploring whether physical activity in kids also improves school performance.

HealthMPowers, a nonprofit that promotes healthy behaviors for Atlanta children, will be providing accelerometers to thousands of elementary school students next year. The project will encourage movement in kids and track their physical activity. Researchers from Boise State and Emory universities will use data from the devices to study the link between activity and academic achievement.

About 1,200 accelerometers will be used during the project in 40 Gwinnett County, Georgia, schools — and almost 70 percent of the devices were assembled by volunteers at APHA’s Annual Meeting. More than 100 meeting-goers pitched in on Sunday to put together the devices as part of an event with HealthMPowers at the Georgia World Congress Center.

HealthMPowers supports nutrition education and physical activity in schools, child care centers and after-school programs, helping children make healthy choices. In 2015-2016, the organization reached more than 319,000 students at about 780 schools and centers, providing training, resources, services and more.

One of the things the organization does is show students and teachers how to bring easy, everyday physical activity into the classroom.

“We’re trying to show kids movement is fun, physical activity is fun,” said Christi Kay, HealthMPowers president. “Kids can’t be sitting six and a half hours a day in their chairs and be expected to learn.”

APHA and HealthMPowers came together via the Association’s Help Us Help Them campaign, through which Annual Meeting attendees give back to the local community. This year, attendees were able to both make a donation and sign up to volunteer. The volunteer event was so popular that there was a waiting list. Meeting-goers also donated more than $10,000.

Among those helping to assemble the tracking devices on Sunday was Jamar Davis. He’s attending APHA’s Annual Meeting for the first time and jumped at the chance to volunteer. Davis works with community health education in Charlotte, North Carolina, and regularly volunteers in his spare time. Davis said he saw the APHA event as a chance to meet others and pitch in while in Atlanta.

“Every little bit helps,” he said.

APHA Annual Meeting attendees volunteering yesterday at the HealthMPowers event. Photo by Michele Late, courtesy The Nation’s Health

Also volunteering was Liane Pereira of Central Washington University, who is presenting on the effects of bullying on education during the Annual Meeting. Being a part of the HealthMPowers event was a nice break from the meeting’s hustle and bustle, she said, but it was also rewarding.

“It’s good to give back,” Pereira said.

Volunteers spent time at a variety of stations during the HealthMPowers event, setting up accelerometers, putting them on belts, trimming and labeling the belts and more.

“It sounds like a small thing, but when you’re talking about 1,200 of these accelerometers and having to put them in boxes that are going to have to be rotated from classroom to classroom, it’s a pretty-labor intensive process,” Adria Meyer, research director for HealthMPowers, told APHA TV. “We’re very thankful to be getting the support of these volunteers during this project.”

The on-site volunteer event was a first for APHA’s Help Us Help Them campaign, and also for HealthMPowers. While the organization often works with community volunteers, the Annual Meeting was its first such conference event.

Kay said organizers are grateful for the contributions of APHA 2017 attendees. Some of the volunteers were so excited about the event, they even stayed longer than their scheduled hours to do more.

“APHA has been fantastic to work with,” Kay said. “The volunteers have been incredibly enthusiastic not only about the project but also about the work they are doing.”

For more on HealthMPowers, visit the group’s website and watch the APHA TV video.