A Witte Museum exhibit called H-E-B Body Adventure is not only providing education and entertainment for its visitors. It’s become a resource for public health policy makers shaping the future of San Antonio.
The Witte bills itself as the People’s Museum. With more than 350,000 visitors a year, people are certainly visiting. Those who visit the four-story H-E-B Body Adventure exhibit, though, are part of something bigger than they know.
"What better place to address community public health than a place in the community that has a lot of social capital that’s been in the community for 90 years," asked Bryan Bayles, Ph.D., MPH, Curator of Anthropology and Health.
Bayles said H-E-B Body Adventure, launched in 2014, has been a treasure trove of data about San Antonio’s public health. The visitors to the four-story interactive experiential exhibit take part in various physical challenges, like one called Pull Your Own Weight.
"It’s tough," said 7-year-old Marie Martinez. "And it’s super fun."
Visitors are issued a Power Pass they plug in to different stations. As they make their way through the building, their card records a profile of their height, weight, zip code, answers to questions about habits and renders a snapshot of the community.
"Now if you can couple that with data collection with an ability to track metrics to see if the community is changing, it becomes a very powerful tool to give back to the community," Bayles explained. "Through our data collection we’ve been able to identify specific zip codes and age groups who bear a disproportionate burden. So we can target those zip codes for special outreach and education."
For instance, in areas where children said they thought it was unsafe to play outside, policy makers are now trying to develop more pocket parks for families to use, battling what Bayles calls a young generation with "Nature Deficit Disorder."
The Witte has used its data to target funding, like paying for field trips to the museum for school districts where children have high body mass indexes.
"I love it. I think it’s exciting," commented Yvonne Martinez. She was chaperoning a group of second grade students from San Antonio Independent School District’s Margil Elementary School, a group that included her own triplets.
"This area of the museum is so needed in our community," Martinez stated. "With social media and technology being at their fingertips, we’ve gotten used to them being indoors and just sitting."
One exhibit in H-E-B Body Adventure will measure how fast you run. Another is an electronic version of a favorite game, dodgeball. Throughout the exhibit, you can hear sounds at joy at achievement, wonder and enlightenment.
Bayles says with visitors from every demographic, the Witte can educate people and change the community at the same time.
The vast majority of our largely preventable chronic diseases and the burden of disease is not something that’s going to be fixed in a clinical setting," Bayles said. "Health is something that occurs in a context. You will be more successful in your health behavior change journey if you have community support."
H-E-B Body Adventure won an award for innovation this year from the Texas Association of Museums.