Merrimack College and YMCA partner for healthy kids

Backed by a significant grant from a major health-care foundation, a Merrimack College professor and the Merrimack Valley YMCA will expand a local initiative on child obesity nationwide.

Kyle McInnis, Sc.D., health sciences chair at Merrimack College and the creator of Active Science, has been awarded a $500,000 grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in partnership with the Merrimack Valley YMCA. The innovative “exerlearning” approach combines exercise with exploratory learning activities to address a national health priority of reducing child obesity. The approach provides the dual benefit of increasing levels of physical activity and supporting academic development in areas such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

In Active Science, children wear activity trackers that send exercise data to mobile devices and display colorful graphs and figures on handheld tablets. Brief interactive academic lessons are provided using the physical activity data the children generate through a fun app developed by McInnis and the Active Science team.

“The key,” McInnis said, “is that kids exercise to have fun and not necessarily to get fit. Similarly, they learn by doing things, and Active Science integrates exercise, learning and technologies that kids enjoy.” He called the approach “stealth learning.”

“There is tremendous need in our society for innovative approaches addressing these important youth development and educational priorities. The YMCA reaches 9 million children in the U.S. and we are excited about partnering with Merrimack College to make this evidence-based program available to others throughout the YMCA network,” said Stephen Ives, M.B.A., chief operation officer of the Merrimack Valley YMCA.

Active Science has been operating through the Lawrence branch of the Merrimack Valley YMCA. Moving forward, the Y will establish a National Active Science Center as a part of a $21 million expansion of its Andover/North Andover facility that broke ground March 28.

At the center McInnis and his team will conduct research, develop curricula, train staff, and manage data for YMCA sites running the program in other U.S. cities. Students in the college’s Department of Health Sciences will gain hands-on experience with community-based programming as well as groundbreaking research.

The grant will support the establishment of 10 sites located in YMCAs across the country. Researchers from Merrimack will collect data from these sites to expand the evidence for measureable impact on STEM knowledge and physical activity. In addition, an entrepreneurial approach will be used to pilot scaling and sustaining the program within the YMCA network.

“Dr. McInnis’ cutting-edge work is a shining example of Merrimack’s commitment to leadership in creative research that empowers lives,” said Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D., president of Merrimack. “Our investment in our state-of-the-art Health Sciences Center will continue to support collaborations such as this that embody the college’s core values of leadership, community, awareness, scholarship and service.”


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