Most science exhibits focus on animals, robots or body parts. But a new exhibit at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center focuses on wellness. The goal is to help kids understand how the choices they make affect their overall health.
One interactive exhibit, for example, teaches kids the connection between sneezing and spreading germs. A screen at the exhibit’s germasium beckons to the kids. It shows people sneezing. As the kids walk up to the wall, they get a spray of mist. Don’t worry, it’s not a real sneeze, it’s just water. But if it were real, the kids would be exposed to more than 40,000 germy particles. The obvious message is cover your mouth. The interactive exhibit is part of the Wellbody Academy.
Hygiene is one of seven segments that make up good health. So is sleep. That’s Michael Vitiello’s expertise. He researches sleep disturbances at the University of Washington. He also helped develop content for the Academy’s slumbertorium.
“I was just watching five people fill out the machine that shows how much they’ve slept and whether they’re rested. All of the children said they didn’t feel rested. Every one of them,” says Vitiello.
Vitiello says sleep is one of those corners that people cut when it comes to their health. Nutrition is another issue. He acknowledges it’s a challenge to teach children about wellness when we’re surrounded by unhealthy choices -- junk food, TV, you name it. So the exhibit offers tips to overcome potential barriers and change behavior.
But how do you get kids to pay attention to their health? Vitiello says parents are key. They play a crucial role in influencing kids to make healthy choices.
“We’re talking about getting kids to see what a healthy lifestyle is when they’re three, and four, and five. It’s the old, 'as the twig bends, so grows the tree.' And so if they see their parents not sleeping well, not getting exercise, eating too many donuts and not enough apples, that’s the way they’re going to go, because it’s easier,” says Vitello.
The exhibit might be all fun and games, but there are some sobering statistics behind it. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Health officials warn this younger generation will be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents.