Matthew, a KinderCare student, inputs his information to retrieve a POWERpass. Photo by Joan Vinson.

The H-E-B Body Adventure at the Witte Museum opened in May 2014, and over the course of a year the interactive children’s exhibit has taught, inspired, and mentally grounded students, teachers, and families – all while collecting data on the physical well-being of San Antonians.

San Antonio has twice the number of diabetics found in any other of major U.S. city, and 45% of the city’s youth aged eight to 18 are overweight or obese. The collected data could be a significant first step in changing that profile.

Once attendees enter the healthy-living center, they enter their first name, zip code, and age into a computer system that produces a paper card called a POWERpass. Visitors use the pass throughout the exhibit by swiping it at various interactive stations, most of which require participants to enter more data about themselves. For example, one station might ask the visitor to choose their favorite healthy snack and another might ask attendees to enter the number of sodas they consumed in a set period of time.

The ground floor of the H-E-B Body Adventure. Photo by Joan Vinson.
The ground floor of the H-E-B Body Adventure. Photo by Joan Vinson.

By using the POWERpass to gather this data, the H-E-B Body Adventure discovered a way to aggregate anonymous data without the biases that family doctors or others might experience.

City and County officials have never gathered community health data from a sample size as large and as diverse as the H-E-B Body Adventure pool. From its opening in 2014, to a year later in May of this year, the healthy-living center attracted 168,751 visitors who used the POWERpass to guide them through the museum.

According to the H-E-B Body Adventure’s first annual report, among school-age youth, 23% of boys and 16% of girls watch television or play video games four or more hours per day; 38% of youth ages 13-18 drink one or more soda a day; and 15% of youth in that age bracket reported not having “fun, safe places” to play outside their homes.

Visitors chose fruit as their favorite healthy snack, and vegetables as their least favorite healthy snack. Despite the fact that fruit took the lead, a large chunk of youth said they did not eat fruit the previous day.

Bryan Bayles, the Witte Museum’s curator of anthropology and health, said families want to eat fruits and vegetables, but there are misconceptions that healthy food is expensive and difficult to prepare. To counter these misconceptions, Bayles and his colleagues created simple cooking demonstrations that use a limited number of ingredients.

Bryan Bayles, the Witte Museum curator of anthropology and health. Photo by Joan Vinson.
Bryan Bayles, the Witte Museum curator of anthropology and health. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Bayles told the story about a conversation he overheard between a mother and her son. The young boy, while answering a question at one of the stations, asked his mom if grapes were a fruit. His mother responded with a “yes” and the boy asked his mother to buy him grapes the next time she went to the grocery store.

“Playing that game and thinking about his daily food habits sparked a conversation with his family that led to a behavior change,” he said. “Those are the kinds of lessons we are seeing on a daily basis. It has really exceeded our expectations of how enthusiastic the community has been.”

Bayles said the museum used POWERpass data to determine the most underserved schools in San Antonio to underwrite their transportation costs to visit the H-E-B Body Adventure. He said these schools also report eating the lowest consumption of fruits and vegetables.

On the second floor of the center is a virtual anatomy table that provides an inside look into the human body. The Witte Museum partnered with the University of Texas Health Science Center and the University of the Incarnate Word to train health career students on how to interact with the general public about their bodies. Students sit behind the anatomy table and answer questions that visitors have about their body.

“We are helping train the next generation of health care doctors and so on to be more comfortable speaking to their community about physical activity and nutrition,” Bayles said.

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Physicians often feel under equipped to counsel their patients on physical activity and nutrition, Bayles said, so the Witte Museum and its partners are conducting research on the students to determine how volunteering behind the anatomy table impacts their communication skills and empathy.

“We know in medical school that, over time, empathy and that feeling of connection can actually decline,” he said.

Along with food, nutrition, and exercise, the H-E-B Body Adventure, in partnership with the Synergy Studio, offers meditation and gentle movement practices on the Charles Moulton Serenity Floor.

“Rest and relaxation are key parts of wellness,” Bayles said.

*Featured/top image: Matthew, a KinderCare student, inputs his information to retrieve a POWERpass. Photo by Joan Vinson.   

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Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....