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Environmental Factor, June 2012

NIEHS health and fitness week becomes a family affair

By Ian Thomas

Kids give answers in “Exercise Trivia.”

Kids rush to give answers in “Exercise Trivia.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

May 14 marked the beginning of NIEHS’ annual Health and Fitness Week, though this year’s event brought with it an added twist, by including Family Day as part of the weeklong slate of events. Through a partnership with Be Active North Carolina, (http://www.beactivenc.org/)  a local organization devoted to promoting greater physical activity throughout the state, NIEHS welcomed all comers, young and old, to take part in the educational fun. 

“Health and Fitness Week is always great for energizing people around the Institute,” said Dona McNeill of the NIEHS Office of Management. “However, our hope is that by weaving Family Day activities into the mix, and allowing people to get involved with their kids, we can foster more conversations at home about things like nutrition and daily exercise.”  

The couch potato alternative

Throughout the day, parents and kids took part in a number of events, all designed to help build better habits with regard to nutrition and physical activity. Among them were exercise trivia, a two-mile nature walk, and a scavenger hunt, to name a few.

“Our goal is to promote physical activity and active play, to North Carolinians of all ages, as a means to a healthy lifestyle,” said Richard Rairigh, Be Active director of programs and early childhood development. “Be it through partnerships like this one with NIEHS, or others with senior centers, area sports teams, or local schools and child care centers, we’ll work with anyone in the community who shares in our vision.”

Be Active is a statewide initiative designed to empower North Carolinians to live healthier lives, by educating them on the negative effects of inactivity. The organization also works with grassroots and volunteer groups across the state who share in that mission, while advocating for public programs and policies that support it. 

A family flair for science

Of course, Family Day at NIEHS has never been without its science, and 2012 was no different. Among the activities and workshops geared to teach kids about science were “Flubber and Color Change” with Rachel Frawley of the NIEHS Toxicology Branch; “Allergies and the Family” with Donald Cook, Ph.D., of the Immunogenetics Group; and “DNA Detectives” with Ron Cannon, Ph.D., of the Intracellular Regulation Group.

“Playing ‘DNA Detectives’ with these kids is always such a thrill for me, because you never know where that could lead in the future,” said Cannon, who conducted the workshop with fellow scientists Diane Spencer and Cindy Innes. “Today, they’re learning about gel electrophoresis, but fifteen years from now, they could be analyzing gels of their own as part of a thesis, and that interest will have started right here with a simple game.”

The day also included a family-style lunch in the NIEHS cafeteria, featuring a kid-friendly menu of spaghetti and meatballs, sandwiches, and barbecue chicken, as well as a full slate of games, ranging from karaoke to a cakewalk. 

“Showing people how to live healthier lives strikes at the heart of what NIEHS is all about,” Cannon concluded. “Whether it’s learning how the environment affects our DNA, or the value of taking a break from the TV, these are lessons that everyone can take something away from.” 

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)


Kids took a hands-on approach to science.

Kids took a hands-on approach to science. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)


Greg Travlos, D.V.M.

With his Zen-like concentration on the ball, a carefully focused Greg Travlos, D.V.M., showed that competition at table tennis, though not quite so physical, could also be very intense in its own way. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)


Richard Rairigh

Rairigh gave instruction on daily activities for kids. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)


NIEHS employees playing basketball.

Health and Fitness Week also gave employees an opportunity to get physical with some aggressive competition on the court. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)


Other NIEHS Health and Fitness Week activities and competitions

  • “The Biggest Loser” Competition
  • 3-on-3 Basketball Round Robin
  • Basketball Shootout
  • Football Throwing Contest
  • Corn Hole Competition
  • Table Tennis Tournament


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