Alexander Vigo-Valentín’s research focuses on physical activity behaviors among adolescents in Puerto Rico.
“Growing up in Puerto Rico helped me understand what adolescents go through in middle and high school, especially in terms of health care access,” Alexander asserts.
A 2010 – 2012 New Connections grant allowed him to continue work he had already begun, to collect data on smoking, drinking, eating, and physical activity behaviors among Puerto Rican adolescents.
Thanks to the New Connections grant, Alexander and his team were able to begin analyzing this data. The issue of obesity stood out to them most of all, as they found that less than 10 percent of Puerto Rican adolescents were reaching the recommended physical activity guidelines.
“It was time for us to go and see what really was happening in Puerto Rico,” Alexander explains. “To see if teachers, school communities, and administrators were aware of how physical activity policies should be implemented.”
And so the Physical Activity Policies and Opportunity for Hispanic Adolescents in Secondary School Environments study was born.
Through it, Alexander gained a new respect for grassroots change.
“In academia, we typically hope to create positive change through reaching policymakers and stakeholders, but sometimes that approach fails to make an immediate difference,” Alexander states. “We found that we made more of an impact when we reached the community, as well as legislators.”
Through this combined approach, he met success in both fields. At the legislative level, Alexander’s compelling presentation of his data led to two bills that may turn into recommendations.
And at the community level, he has reached school teachers, administrators, and other school personnel committed to physical activity programming in Puerto Rico. During community visits to schools, Alexander reinforces to these groups the importance of planning physical activity components into their classes.
“Not all students like sports, but most of them like to move,” Alexander affirms. “Physical education classes should devote at least 50 percent of the time exposing kids to physical activity behaviors.”
In the spirit of making health a shared value, Alexander also has shared with communities the importance of physical behaviors outside of the classroom, whether it’s encouraging kids to walk or bike to school, or urging schools to offer Zumba, yoga, or roller-blading programs.
So far, he has been pleased to find that “schools have been very receptive to this kind of approach.”