The BEACH Lab takes on the Windy City! #APHA2015

Greetings again! Morgan here, excited to share another exciting conference and travel experience from the BEACH Lab. The 2015 American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting was held in Chicago, Illinois from Nov 1-4, 2015 with the theme, ‘Health in all Policies’. This year, Dr. Kaczynski was the Program Chair for the Physical Activity Section and he was excited to see his committee’s work (which I was a part of!) come to fruition. Overall, the trip was full of exciting presentations as well as networking, sightseeing, and of course, eating good food!


Stephanie at her poster presentation

On Sunday, Stephanie Child started off the BEACH Lab presentations with her poster titled, ‘(Mis)Use of social cohesion as a health indicator in predominately African-American neighborhoods’, where she assessed the utility of social cohesion as a determinant of health in several communities in Greenville, South Carolina. Stephanie was able to have some in-depth conversations with colleagues about the role of the social environment in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

On Monday, Stephanie, Melissa Fair, and myself were able to catch different presentations that we were interested in. Topics ranged from bridging academic and community partnerships to a systems approach for addressing obesity, and how to maximize large datasets to address health inequities.

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Melissa presenting her research

Tuesday brought two BEACH Lab presentations: Melissa Fair started us off at lunchtime presenting her research that examined the associations between aerobic fitness and academic achievement in elementary aged youth in a session titled ‘Strong Minds, Strong Bodies: Role of Physical Activity on Academic Achievement’.  Her study found that increased fitness was related to increased scores on all five standardized testing subjects – reading, math, science, social studies, and writing. This presentation was nominated for the APHA Physical Activity Section’s Best Student Presentation Award! Melissa and I also visited a roundtable session where we heard Dr. Meghan Slining from Furman University discuss her research with faith communities through LiveWell Greenville.

The next session was called ‘Spaces and Places for Physical Activity’ where all the presentations focused on unique projects of the built environment and health. My presentation was titled ‘Pathways to health: Trail use associated with self-rated health and healthy weight status among adults in South Carolina’. With two of my mentors, Dr. Julian Reed and Dr. Kaczynski, we used a random-digit-dial survey to assess whether people using the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail had better self-rated health and weight status than adults who do not use the trail. Indeed, we found trail users reported lower weight status and better overall health compared to trail non-users. The other presenters in this session also shared some great projects on ways to improve physical activity and active play in parks and recreation environments and even city streets!


Having fun in the photobooth at the Conference Center

Last, Stephanie wrapped up our presentations early Wednesday morning with her presentation titled ‘We need a safe, walkable way to connect our brothers and sisters: A qualitative study of opportunities and challenges for neighborhood based physical activity among residents of low-income African-American communities’. Stephanie described the first part of her dissertation project where she conducted focus groups in eight neighborhoods in Greenville, South Carolina about how residents perceived that their neighborhoods contributed to their health. She discussed how participants expressed a desire for increased structural opportunities to be active but also the social benefits of being active in their neighborhoods. For example, one resident remarked: ““I’ve heard of a program that’s called walking buddies, where you get a couple of your neighbors in the neighborhood together and you go out two or three times a week together there. That would be a way of getting neighbors out exercising and getting to meet other people in the neighborhood and letting yourselves be out so people will know what people they have in their neighborhood there. I think that’s a pretty good idea.”


In addition to the conference activities, we were all able to explore and see some of the beautiful sites in Chicago. Located in the heart of the down, Millenium Park was a beautiful green space full of art, architecture, and facilities that encouraged active lifestyles. We definitely had to stop at the famous ‘Cloud Gate’, also known as “the Bean”, which is a large elliptical structure made of stainless steel that reflects Chicago’s striking skyline. We were also able to stroll along the lovely Riverwalk along the Chicago River that ends at Lake Michigan. It also wouldn’t be a trip to Chicago without having a little deep dish pizza …


The Bean


Chicago deep dish pizza!



Selfies in Chicago







All in all, APHA 2015 was a wonderful trip to a charming city – full of learning, exploring, and spending time with current and future colleagues. Personally, it was a time for reflection on the first two and a half years of the doctoral program and how far I’ve come since stepping into my first doctoral class. I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to be involved in great research projects and surrounded by bright colleagues that encourage and challenge me to keep moving forward. At a time where I’m thinking quite a bit about my future, this conference provided many conversations for me to think about defining success for myself and staying true to the reasons I embarked in public health.


Now, it’s time to hunker down on my dissertation! Until next time…


“The people in the place to be transformed are not the problem. They are the solution.” -Olis Simmons of Youth Uprising