Project SHAPE LA: Nurse Faculty Scholar Alum Aims to Help Children Get Active

Apr 27, 2012, 1:00 PM, Posted by Kynna Wright-Volel

Kynna Wright-Volel, PhD, RN, MPH, PNP-BC, FAAN, an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar alumna, recently won a five-year, $1.2 million grant funded jointly by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research and Office of Behavioral Social Science Research. She will use the grant to work with the Los Angeles Unified School District to launch Project SHAPE LA™, a coordinated school-health program designed to increase physical activity among youth in Los Angeles County schools.

Human Capital Blog: Please share your vision for Project Shape LA™, what its goals are and how many children and teens it will reach.

Kynna Wright-Volel: Project SHAPE LA™ targets 24 middle schools in underserved areas of Los Angeles and will touch nearly 12,000 students. With this grant, we want physical education teachers to ignite a passion for physical activity – to teach kids that by being active, they can be healthy and achieve their dreams. Anticipated outcomes from this program include: increased moderate to vigorous physical activity; increased scores on the California State Board of Education’s FitnessGram Test in the areas of aerobic fitness, body composition and muscular strength/endurance; and increased academic achievement, as evidenced by higher scores on the California standardized test.

HCB: Why is a project like this needed in your community?

Wright-Volel: According to the L.A. County Department of Public Health, one in five children in the Los Angeles Unified School District is considered obese. Health inequities exist as well; children who are racial and ethnic minorities and/or come from families with low incomes have higher rates of obesity.

HCB: How did you develop an interest in physical fitness among youth?

Wright-Volel: As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I see the health consequences when children are overweight or obese. However, a visit to a clinic is but one part of the solution. In order to decrease obesity, we have to get our kids active and eating healthy diets. Research shows that school-based programs that are supported by collaborations among universities, communities and schools can decrease obesity and obesity-related behavior. We believe that through Project SHAPE LA™, LA’s teens will get a fun physical education program that is culturally and developmentally appropriate and increase their daily physical activity. That can ultimately reduce their risk for obesity.

HCB: Where is the funding coming from for Project Shape LA?

Wright-Volel: The grant is jointly funded by the National Institutes of Nursing Research and the Office of Behavioral Social Science Research

HCB: Some people might be surprised to see a nurse leading a project like this. Can you talk about the role of nurses in promoting children’s health?

Wright-Volel: Nurses are in a key position to promote children’s health. Nurses’ roles are not only to take care of the sick; nurses help promote overall health and prevent sickness, and that includes helping children and families combat obesity by teaching them how to prepare healthy foods and how to exercise. It also includes working with community environments to make exercise areas safe and accessible. Nurses play a critical role in health promotion and disease prevention.

HCB: You were a member of the first cohort of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars. Did that experience help you in shaping this project and winning the grant that will support it?

Wright-Volel: Yes, it definitely did! I was able to use the data from my RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar research study as a foundation for my current National Institutes of Health-funded grant. Without this experience, I would not have had the preliminary data needed to support the current study, nor the insight that is needed to successfully conduct an obesity study among underserved populations in L.A. County.

HCB: You have won some very prestigious awards relatively early in your career. Please tell us about those awards, and where you hope to go from here with your work. What would you like to be doing in ten or 20 years?

Wright-Volel: I have been recognized for my leadership and scholarly activities with accolades, including: the 2012 National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioner’s NP of the Year Award; the 2011 National Black Nurses Association Nurse Researcher of the Year; the 2009 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health’s Community Trailblazer Award; the 2009 American Public Health Association’s MCH Young Professionals Award; and several proclamations from state and local government officials. I look forward to implementing this current grant and further establishing myself as a nursing scientist in the field of health inequities, pediatric obesity and health promotion.

Learn more about the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar program.

Learn more about Project SHAPE LA™.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.