Girls on the Move Intervention
Nurses Put Girls on a Path to Fitness and a Better Future
It’s a problem too important to ignore: less than 4 percent of the nation’s middle school-aged girls meet physical activity recommendations. And the problem disproportionately affects those in socioeconomically challenged urban settings. In an effort to reverse this situation, Michigan State University nursing researchers are using a federal grant to design a school-based physical activity program that addresses the physical and personal barriers keeping the nation’s young girls from getting the exercise they need to be healthy and to succeed.
“This is a critical age for intervention,” says Lorraine Robbins, associate professor of nursing, who’s leading the project called Girls Only Activity for Life. “The older girls get, the less moderate and vigorous activity they take part in, which leads to further weight gain and puts them at greater risk for chronic illness.”
According to federal estimates, 3.2 million middle school-aged girls are overweight or obese. Another dose of reality: children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day—more time than they spend in school—in front of a screen, whether it’s television, computers, video games, or cell phones, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
MSU’s $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health expands on a successful pilot program in Lansing public schools designed by researchers in the College of Nursing and Department of Kinesiology. The study will be conducted in 24 schools in Michigan—12 intervention schools and 12 control schools—over three years.
Robbins and her team will implement a 17-week after-school physical activity program with a companion website designed to keep participants motivated. The program seeks to remove commonly reported barriers to physical activity, including lack of transportation and safe, supervised playgrounds, as well as personal insecurities about body image.
To increase the odds of participants adopting long-term exercise habits, the researchers are recruiting school nurses to conduct face-to-face counseling sessions with participants after they complete an online survey that gauges their attitudes toward physical activity. To supplement the time spent directly with a school nurse, each participant chooses an online coach—an animated avatar—that delivers motivational messages via a companion website during the program. The tailored feedback aims to help the girls overcome self-consciousness and body image issues and to increase their motivation for physical activity.
“We want the girls to develop a rapport with the school nurse,” says Robbins. “If they have a direct connection to a health care professional, they can go to that person with other issues as well that may be getting in the way.”
In addition to seeing positive changes in key measurements that include body mass index and sustained physical activity levels in participants, the researchers’ goal is to create a model for an evidence-based program that can be adopted by schools nationwide.