Visit to Cape Town, South Africa for ISBNPA

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June 14, 2016
By Jim Sallis
Visit to Cape Town, South Africa for ISBNPA

The International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) conference in Cape Town provided the opportunity for my first visit to South Africa. The combination of the dramatic but troubled history, spectacular flora and fauna, and excellent conference made for a memorable trip. I was pleased to be greeted at airport by Nelson Mandela, the most famous South African (made from beads).

A close encounter with Nelson Mandela.

I congratulate ISBNPA leaders for taking the risk of holding the conference in South Africa. The risk paid off because the attendance was strong, at over 500, and the quality of the science was high. A major benefit was that 100 professionals from Africa attended, and I'm sure many new relationships and collaborations were started that will be mutually beneficial. I am aware of at least two instances of African attendees meeting colleagues from their country, or even their same university, for the first time.

My primary reason for attending ISBNPA was to present the NEWS-Africa project. The need for built environment and physical activity research in Africa is evident, due to the rapidly increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases, that are likely being exacerbated by short-sighted land use and transport policies and practices. See the example in the photo of automobile-oriented development and Cape Town sprawl.  It looks very similar to US development patterns, and we can expect the same negative effects on physical activity and health.

Cape Town sprawl is similar to what we are accustomed to in the US, Australia, and elsewhere.

The NEWS-Africa story began in 2010 when Adewale Oyeyemi developed a version of the NEWS (Neighborhood Environment Walkability Survey) for Nigeria. A partnership of the IPEN Adolescent study (funded by National Cancer Institute) and Mark Tremblay's (Ottawa, Canada) Africa study of youth physical activity (funded by IDRC), with the assistance of Vickie Lambert (Cape Town) recruiting investigators from the AFPAN network, organized a meeting with representatives of 7 African countries, hosted in Nairobi, Kenya by Vincent Onywera in 2013. We drafted NEWS-Africa there and further developed and evaluated it over the next two years. Now the reliability and construct validity data are complete for an adult sample from 6 countries, and the timing was perfect for presenting these results at ISBNPA. Dr Oyeyemi organized and chaired a symposium at ISBNPA. Other presenters were Sandra Kasoma (Uganda, Kenya), Richmond Aryeetey (Accra, Ghana), and myself. Additional collaborators attended and are included in the photo. I want to note that the presenters led an activity break to end the symposium by celebrating African culture. A paper describing the development and reliability of NEWS-Africa was recently published. The slides from the NEWS-Africa symposium are posted on the IPEN website.

From the NEWS-Africa symposium. Richmond Aryeetey (Ghana), Jim Sallis (USA), Adewale Oyeyemi (Nigeria, South Africa), Sandra Kasoma (Uganda), Antonio Prista (Mozambique), Hanlie Moss (South Africa), Tracy Kolbe-Alexander (Australia, South Africa), Vickie Lambert (South Africa).

Congratulations to Lars Christiansen from the University of Southern Denmark, for presenting results from IPEN Adult at ISBNPA. Lars's study on walking and cycling for transport is published in a special issue of the Journal of Transportat and Health.

I had a chance to mix business with pleasure prior to ISBNPA. Both Myron Floyd and I enjoyed a wildlife tour, had encounters with many beautiful animals, and were humbled by the stunning views of the Milky Way Galaxy in the clear night skies. Myron is from North Carolina State University, and we are both part of PARC (Physical Activity Research Center), our new project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Jim Sallis and Myron Floyd, after our wildlife adventure in South Africa.

On my last day in Cape Town I took an emotionally-affecting tour of Langa township. Some of the living conditions were appalling, and improvements are coming slowly. The resilience of the people was especially apparent at the church service, where the music had enough healing power to help everyone's problems, at least temporarily. The lessons about the long struggle to defeat apartheid, and the continuing struggle for equal opportunities, were unforgettable.

A mural in Langa township, near Cape Town.

Some of the informal structures in Langa township.

Finally, I want to thank my colleague Vickie Lambert for her hospitality during my first, and surely not last, visit to South Africa. I particularly appreciate her taking me to Kirstenbosch Gardens, at the foot of Table Mountain, so I could see the extraordinarily rich plant life in Cape Town.

Vickie Lambert and I in Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town.

A sculpture of mother and child in Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, with Table Mountain in the background.

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