Earlier this month, I (Dr. Kaczynski) had the pleasure of visiting Curitiba, Brazil for the 9th Brazilian Congress on Physical Activity and Health. For a (relatively) youthful researcher, giving the opening keynote address (let alone in a different language via a translator!) was both daunting and immensely gratifying. The theme of my talk was the ‘contribution of parks and open spaces to physical activity and health’ and included an overview of both past and current projects from Kansas City, Missouri and Greenville, South Carolina (which you can read more about on our BEACH Lab website if interested). It was a real thrill to share my thoughts on how we can use an environmental justice approach to improve our neighborhoods and parks, all the while involving local residents in that process, and these universal ideas seemed to resonate with the over 900 attendees present.
Throughout my trip and especially during the conference, I was consistently bombarded by a feeling of camaraderie, collegiality, and a shared sense of purpose. Unfortunately, my Portuguese wasn’t at the level it should have been, but even thousands of miles from home, it wasn’t hard to detect a common commitment to the value of physical activity and to promoting active living through building healthy communities. The actual theme of the event was “Active People, Healthy Cities” and it was chaired and hosted by Dr. Rodrigo Reis of Pontiff Catholic University of Parana, who visited USC in January 2013. Curitiba is known for its amazing parks and plazas and we didn’t miss out on opportunities to visit such highlights as Parque Barigui, Tangua, and Universidade Livre.
Just in case you missed it, this was the 9th (!) iteration of this physical activity-focused conference in Brazil. It is held biennially, so it’s beenaround for 18 years and counting! That’s an impressive achievement that we should aspire to here in the U.S. While the international speakers featured such familiar names as Jim Sallis (University of California, San Diego), Thom McKenzie (San Diego State University), Ross Brownson (Washington University in St. Louis), Mike Pratt (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Jorge Mota (Universidade do Porto), and Lars Bo Andersen (University of Southern Denmark), the real stars of the show were over 300 graduate students, faculty members, and other professionals from across Brazil and South America who presented their exciting work on a wide variety of topics related to physical activity and health. I enjoyed learning from and getting to know many of these excellent researchers and one of the highlights of my trip was being invited to join in a soccer match on the last evening. Needless to say, I got an entire week’s worth of physical activity trying to keep up with the Brazilians at the ‘beautiful game’ butI loved every minute of it (and it was indeed beautiful … assuming you were watching them and not me!).
Of course, a trip to Brazil also wouldn’t be complete without seeing some of the sights of Rio de Janeiro. On the way home, Dr. McKenzie and I both had an overnight layover in this magnificent city and so we didn’t waste any time checking out such spots as Copacabana Beach (we navigated the subway system to get there), Maracana Stadium (which will host the final match of the 2014 World Cup), the main samba parade route and stadium for Brazil’s annual Carnival (no, I didn’t dance), and the iconic Corcovado (located in Tijuca Forest national park and home to the massive Christ the Redeemer statue). All in all, Brazil was an amazing adventure filled with many lessons about international ingenuity and active living. I look forward to returning someday and to welcoming my many new friends to the U.S. soon.
Andrew Kaczynski, PhD
An article about Dr. Kaczynski’s trip to Brazil can be found on the Arnold School of Public Health Website.