The effect of an 8-week educational curriculum and physical activity program on attitudes toward physical activity and body image of urban adolescent girls.
Adolescent girls are becoming less physically active and are experiencing more body image issues compared to adolescent boys. Furthermore, adolescent girls maintain physical activity levels well below recommended guidelines, especially girls in urban environments. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of an 8-week after-school educational curriculum, GoGirlGo!, and physical activity program on urban adolescent middle school girls' attitudes toward physical activity and body image. Twenty-five girls ranging in age from 12 to 14 years of age (M = 12.34 years, SD = 2.1) were randomly placed into two groups: (a) GoGirlGo! intervention and physical activity, and (b) physical activity only. The GoGirlGo! group increased their attraction to physical activity and lowered scores in weight dissatisfaction and desire to be slim compared to the physical activity only group. Based on the data, the GoGirlGo! curriculum is effective in improving attitudes about physical activity and body image among urban adolescent girls.
Adolescent girls are becoming less physically active and are experiencing more body image issues compared to adolescent boys (Craft, Pfeiffer, & Pivarnik, 2003; Cusamano, & Thompson, 2001). In comparing race, researchers have suggested that Caucasian girls experience more body dissatisfaction than African American and Latina girls (Abrams, & Stormer, 2002; Nagy Hesse-Biber, Howling, Leavy, & Lovejoy, 2004). The reason for this difference may be that the standard for the ideal body differs from culture to culture. Also, this standard may be affected by socioeconomic status, acculturation levels, and peer influence (Crago, Shisslak, & Estes, 1998). Peer influence has also been noted in the research as a reason for the increase in adolescent girls' body image issues, as girls have a tendency to compare themselves to others, regardless of race (Jaffee & Mahle Lutter, 1995).
Another factor contributing to body image issues is the inundation of media messages suggesting that adolescent girls must be unrealistically thin to be accepted (Brustad, 1993; Ricciardielli, McCabe, Holt, & Finemore, 2003). In addition to mainstream advertising, the media has also been targeting Latina girls in pushing an unrealistic ideal of beauty and body weight, which is a departure from larger body types that are more accepted in Latin American countries (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007).
In addition to body image issues, adolescent girls maintain physical activity levels well below recommended guidelines. Researchers suggest that fewer African American girls in urban environments are participating in physical activity compared to their Caucasian counterparts (Gillium, 1987). African American girls tend to be less active, report spending more time watching television, and have higher body mass indexes (BMI) than Caucasian girls (Felton et. al, 2002). Further, there is a higher prevalence of overweight Latina (11.8%) and African American (15.6%) girls compared to Caucasian girls (7.8%) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000). Although African American and Latina girls report less body dissatisfaction than Caucasian girls, African American girls seem to gain more weight during adolescence than Caucasian girls, which will put them at a greater risk for diabetes and heart disease when they become adults (Wadden et al., 1990). Latina girls are the second most overweight group of children in the United States and are twice as likely not to participate in physical activity compared to Latino boys (Flores et. al, 2002; UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 2005).
The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of an 8-week after-school educational curriculum called GoGirlGo! and a physical activity program on urban adolescent middle school girls' attitudes toward physical activity and body image. More specifically, the researchers examined two hypotheses. First, it was hypothesized that the girls who experienced the GoGirlGo! educational curriculum and the physical activity program would have an increase in their posttest scores in their attraction to physical activity after the 8-week program compared to those who experienced physical activity only. The second hypothesis was that girls in the GoGirlGo! group would demonstrate a decrease in their posttest scores on weight dissatisfaction, desire to be slim, and effect of interpersonal messages regarding slimness, compared to the physical activity group.
The 25 girls who volunteered for the study ranged in age from 12 to 14 years of age (M = 12.34 years, SD = 2.1) and represented different ethnic backgrounds, including Latina (62.5 %), African American ( 31.25%), and Caucasian (6.25%). Participants were randomly placed into two groups. Those subjects in the GoGirlGo! group received 20 min of the GoGirlGo! curriculum and 40 min of planned physical activity once per week. The physical activity group received only 40 min of physical activity once a week. Participants in both groups experienced the same planned physical activity program. Non of the girls received any type of extra credit for participating in this study. Affirmative parental and student consent was obtained prior to the beginning of the study.
GoGirlGo! Educational Curriculum:
The GoGirlGo! curriculum was developed by the Women's Sport Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization founded in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King to advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity. The purpose of the GoGirlGo! curriculum is to maximize the use of physical activity as an intervention to improve girls' overall well being as they go from childhood to early womanhood. The GoGirlGo! curriculum couples actual stories from professional athletes (e.g., former soccer star Mia Hamm, Paralympian Aimee Mullins, and Olympic softball player Lisa Fernandez) with four culturally diverse female GoGirlGo! characters who tell stories and life lessons about bullying, divorce, emotions, body image, and smoking.
As suggested in the GoGirlGo! program leader guidelines, the researchers led the girls in the GoGirlGo! group in a 20-min discussion about a particular athlete's story or GoGirlGo! character's life lesson. Each girl was encouraged to read a section of a story or life lesson and respectfully discuss her thoughts and feelings with the rest of the group. At the conclusion of the discussion, the GoGirlGo! group participated in 40 min of physical activity.
Physical Activity Program
The physical activity program for both groups included activities such as dance, basketball, soccer, softball, jump rope, badminton/volleyball, team-building games, and power walking using pedometers. Activities were chosen to represent interests of different ethnicities and cultures. For example, Airhihenbuwa, Kumanyika, Agurs, and Lowe (1995) suggested that African Americans favor activities such as dance, while Caucasians preferred individualistic activities such as running. An effort was also made to include activities the girls may not have played before, such as badminton or power walking with pedometers. The authors, who are experienced teachers at the K-12 and college levels, planned the activities with objectives, time management, and safety as priorities. The girls in both groups learned about the rules and strategies for each activity and had time to play an actual game.
Two instruments were used in this study. The Children's Attraction to Physical Activity Scale (CAPA; Brustad, 1993) was used to assess the extent of the participants' interest in physical activity. The CAPA scale is based on the concept that children's motivation to participate in physical activity depends on their emotional reactions to various factors of involvement. The 15-item scale follows the "structured alternative format," which is used to avoid children's tendency to provide answers they believe are "correct." A sample question is, "Some kids don't like to exercise very much but other kids like to exercise a whole lot." In answering the question, the child will choose either the first part of the statement or the second part and then decide if the statement chosen is "sort of true" or "really true."
The Sociocultural Measure of Body Weight/Shape (SMBWS; Delaney, O'Keefe, & Skene, 1997) is a 40-item questionnaire containing five subscales: weight dissatisfaction, slimness as quality of life, interpersonal messages regarding slimness, rejecting societal values of slimness, and valuing exercise. For this study, the researchers examined just three subscales--weight dissatisfaction, slimness as a quality of life, and interpersonal messages regarding slimness--as suggested by Delaney et al. (1997). Weight dissatisfaction reflected the girls' evaluation of their own body shape or weight. Slimness as a quality of life reflected the connection between thinness and their self-worth and self-consciousness about others judging them on their appearance. Interpersonal messages referred to the girl's day-to-day experience of being evaluated by others in terms of appearance.
Both the CAPA and the SMBWS questionnaires have been cited in previous studies of adolescents (Brustad, 1996; Sands & Wardle, J., 2003; Welk, 2004). Participants in this study completed both instruments on the first and last day of the 8-week program. For each instrument, the authors read each question aloud, and each student answered the questions individually.
Paired samples t tests were computed to determine if significant differences existed between pre- and post-test levels of attractiveness to physical activity scores between the intervention and control groups. For the control group, there was no significant difference between pre- and posttest (p = .29). However, for the intervention group, a significant difference (p = .02) was found. Table 1 details the results for changes within the groups for attractiveness to physical activity before and after the 8-week program. These results suggest that the girls who participated in the GoGirlGo! curriculum plus the physical activity program demonstrated a higher attraction to physical activity compared to the group who experienced the physical activity program only.
Paired samples t tests were computed to determine whether significant changes occurred among the subscales across the 8-week period for the intervention and control groups. There was a significant difference between pre- and posttest scores for two of the three subsets--weight dissatisfaction and desire to be slim--for the GoGirlGo! education curriculum intervention group. No significant differences were found between pre- and posttest for the subset interpersonal messages for either group nor for any of the subset categories for the group experiencing physical activity only. While a significant outcome occurred for the overall group for both weight dissatisfaction and desire to be slim, differences were affected by the significance of the intervention group; thus, the change was large enough to cause an overall group effect. However, actual significant changes through the 8-week program occurred solely within the GoGirlGo! intervention group. Information regarding descriptive and t statistics is reported in Table 2. These results suggest that the girls who participated in the GoGirlGo! curriculum plus the physical activity program demonstrated a lower weight dissatisfaction and a decrease in the connection between thinness and self-worth compared to the physical activity only group. The results suggest that for either group there was not a significant difference in interpersonal messages or the way girls referred to being evaluated by others in terms of their appearance.
Table 1 Descriptive statistics and t test results for attractiveness to physical activity Pretest Posttest Group t M [+ or -] SD Physical activity + 40.08 [+ or -] 45.23 [+ or -] -2.65* intervention 6.30 4.99 Physical activity only 40.08 [+ or -] 38.08 [+ or -] 1.11 4.21 6.57 Overall 40.08 [+ or -] 41.80 [+ or -] .77 5.29 6.75 * Significant at p < .05. Table 2 Descriptive statistics and t test results for psychological subscales Subscale Group Pretest Posttest t M [+ or -] SD I: Weight Intervention + 35.00 28.38 4.34 * dissatisfaction physical [+ or -] [+ or -] activity 12.28 11.16 Physical 37.33 37.08 .186 activity only [+ or -] [+ or -] 9.67 9.94 Overall 36.12 32.56 2.98 * [+ or -] [+ or -] 10.94 11.28 II: Desire to be Intervention + 56.92 44.31 4.08 * slim physical [+ or -] [+ or -] activity 12.39 15.79 Physical 50.67 49.92 .454 activity only [+ or -] [+ or -] 15.09 13.44 Overall 53.92 47.00 3.24 * [+ or -] [+ or -] 13.83 14.68 III: Interpersonal Intervention + 20.46 18.77 .91 messages about body physical [+ or -] [+ or -] image activity 3.84 5.48 Physical 25.33 23.42 1.40 activity only [+ or -] [+ or -] 6.39 6.60 Overall 22.80 21.00 1.57 [+ or -] [+ or -] 5.68 6.37 * Significant at p < .05.
Attraction to Physical Activity
Current research demonstrates the need for girls, especially those in urban environments, to be physically active to avoid health issues in adolescence as well as in adulthood. Common barriers to participating in physical activity among girls in urban environments include fear of looking unfeminine, a dislike for physical education class activities, concern for maintaining personal appearance after activity, and lack of opportunity (Taylor et. al; 1999; President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport, 1997). Intervention studies that focus on helping girls overcome these barriers and become more interested in physical activity and less concerned about body images need to be implemented. Because girls making the transition to middle school demonstrate a decline in physical activity (Leslie et. al, 1999) the middle school level seems to be an opportune time to intervene in getting girls to adopt and maintain physical activity. To date, this study is the only one of its kind to examine the effect of the girl-serving GoGirlGo! curriculum and physical activity program at the middle school level. The results of the study speak to the effectiveness of the GoGirlGo! Program, as its content includes athletes of all appearances and abilities and ethnically diverse female characters who focus on the importance of physical activity and sport in their lives.
Girls in the GoGirlGo! group increased their attraction to physical activity. As Brustad (1993) suggested, if girls view physical activtity as positive, they might be motivated to participate in regular physical active during adolescence through adulthood. In the Taylor et al. (1999) study, girls stated that social support, such as having friends interested in physical activity, affected their participation level, because it became more of a social and fun activity. Although the physical activity program was the same for both groups, those in the GoGirlGo! group had the opportunity to form a potential alliance with others while discussing topics such as benefits of physical activity, stress management, bullying, and smoking. This alliance could have helped them connect with the curriculum content as well as make the connection between a socially supportive environment and physical activity. Researchers suggest that girl-serving programs should offer instruction and experiences that increase girls' confidence and opportunities to participate in physical activity (Luepker et. al, 1996; Gortmaker et. al, 1999). This study mirrors the suggestions by previous researchers, as the GoGirlGo! curriculum uses actual stories written by famous female athletes as well as the GoGirlGo! characters to inspire and motivate girls to feel good about themselves and their ability to participate in physical activity.
Adolescent girls are becoming less physically active and are experiencing more body image issues compared to adolescent boys (Craft, et. al, 2003; Cusamano, & Thompson, 2001; Williamson & Delin, 2001). Researchers have suggested that 30-50% of adolescent girls are either concerned about weight or are dieting (Phares, Steinberg, & Thompson, 2004). Reaching adolescents with appropriate interventions regarding weight dissatisfaction issues is important (Neumark-Sztainer & Hannan, 2000). The authors of this study suggest that participation in the GoGirlGo! curriculum intervention and physical activity program provided girls with a positive and empowering attitude toward their body image. As stated in the literature, African American and Latina girls tend to have less body weight dissatisfaction and have a more positive opinion of their bodies compared to their Caucasian counterparts. The researchers suggest the girls in the GoGirlGo! group, regardless of race, received empowering messages from the curriculum that further decreased their weight dissatisfaction and desire to be slim. The GoGirlGo! curriculum mirrors the findings of Shaw & Kemeny, 1989, who suggested that coupling a message relating fitness to slimness is not effective with adolescent girls. The female GoGirlGo! characters, as well as the professional female athletes, were of different weights, body types, heights, and ethnicities and did not send a message that a girl had to be slim to be an athlete or a success in life.
The results of this study were applicable to an urban middle school girl population and could be used as a foundation for future research. The GoGirlGo! curriculum coupled with the physical activity program provided the girls in this study an opportunity and location to participate in activities with which they may not have been familiar or ever played. Although girls in urban environments report positive feelings about sport and physical activity, many do not have the funding or opportunity to participate in sport or extracurricular physical activity programs. This research should encourage other individuals to examine the effect of the GoGirlGo! curriculum or other girl-serving physical activity educational programs that provide an opportunity for adolescent girls, especially in urban populations, to become physically active and acquire a positive body image. More specifically, physical education and health educators can use the results from this study to create in-school or after-school programs using the GoGirlGo! curriculum and physical activities such as the ones in this study to offer adolescent girls a supportive environment to adopt and maintain regular physical activity for a lifetime.
This study was made possible by a generous grant from the University of Rhode Island's Council for Research.
Abrams, L., & Stormer, C. (2002). Sociocultural variations in the body image perceptions of urban adolescent females. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 443-450.
Airhihenbuwa, CO., Kumanyika, S., Agurs, T. D., & Lowe, A. (1995). Perceptions and beliefs about exercise, rest, and health among African Americans. American Journal of Health Promotion, 9, 426-429.
Brustad, R. (1993). Who will go out and play? Parental and psychological influences on children's attraction to physical activity. Pediatric Exercise Science, 5, 210-223.
Brustad, R. (1996). Attraction to physical activity in urban schoolchildren: Parental socialization and gender influences. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 67, 316-323.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2000). Executive summary: Healthy weight, physical activity, and nutrition: Focus group research with African American, Mexican American, and white youth. Atlanta, GA: Author.
Crago, M., Shisslak, C., & Estes, L. (1998). Eating disturbances among American minority groups: A review. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 19, 239-248.
Craft, L., Pfeiffer, K., & Pivarnik, J. (2003). Predictors of physical competence in adolescent girls. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32, 431-438.
Cusamano, D. L., & Thompson, J. K. (2001). Media influences and body image in 8-11-year-old boys and girls: A preliminary report on multidimensional media influence scale. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 29, 37-44.
Delaney, M., O'Keefe, L., & Skene, K. (1997). Development of a sociocultural measure of young women's experiences with body weight and shape. Journal of Personality Assessment, 69, 63-80.
Felton, G., Dowda, M., Ward, D., Dishman, R., Trost, S., Saunders, R., et al. (2002). Differences in physical activity between black and white girls living in rural and urban areas. Journal of School Health, 72, 250-256.
Flores, G., Fuentes-Afflick, E., Barbot, O., Carter-Pokras, O., Claudio, L., Lara, M., et. al. (2002). The health of Latino children: Urgent priorities, unanswered questions, and a research agenda. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 82-90.
Gillium, R. F. (1987). Overweight and obesity in Black women: A review of published data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Journal of the National Medical Association, 78, 865-891.
Gortmaker, S., Peterson, K., & Wiecha, J., Sobol, A., Dixit, S., Fox, M. K., et al. (1999). Reducing obesity via a school-based interdisciplinary intervention among youth. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 153, 409-418
Jaffee, L., & Mahle Lutter, J. (1995). Adolescent girls: Factors influencing low and high body image. Melpomene Journal, 14, 14-22.
Leslie, J., Yancy, A., & McCarthy, W. (1999). Exploring barriers to physical activity in ethnically diverse adolescent girls. Nutrition Research Newsletter, 18, 14.
Luepker, R., Perry, C., McKinlay, S., Nader, P., Parcel, G., Stone, E., et al. (1996). Outcomes of a field trial to improve children's dietary patterns and physical activity. The Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health (CATCH). The journal of the American Medical Association, 275, 768-776.
Nagy Hesse-Biber, S., Howling, S., Leavy, P., & Lovejoy, M. (2004). Racial identity and the development of body image issues among African American adolescent girls. The Qualitative Report, 9, 49-79.
Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Hannan, P. (2000). Weight related behaviors among adolescent girls and boys: Results from a national survey. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 154, 569-577.
Phares, V., Steinberg, A. R., & Thompson, J. K. (2004). Gender differences m peer and parental influences: Body images disturbance, self-worth, and psychological functioning in preadolescent children. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 33, 421-429.
President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport, (1997). Physical activity and sport in the lives of girls: Physical and mental dimensions from an interdisciplinary approach. Retreived March 22, 2006, from http:/education.umm.edu/tuckercenter/pcpfs/default.html.
Ricciardielli, L. A., McCabe, M. P., Holt, K. E., & Finemore, J. (2003). A biopsychosocial model for understanding body images and body change strategies among children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 475-495.
Sands, E., & Wardle, J. (2003). Internalization of ideal body shapes in 9-12-year-old girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33, 193-204.
Shaw, S., & Kemeny, L. (1989). Fitness promotion for adolescent girls: The impact and effectiveness of promotional material which emphasizes the slim ideal. Adolescence, 24, 677-688.
Taylor, W., Yancey, A., Leslie, J., Murray, N., Cummings, S., Sharkey, S., et al. (1999). Physical activity among African American and Latino middle school girls: Consistent beliefs, expectations, and experiences across two sites. Women and Health, 30, 67-82.
UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. (2005). Health policy fact sheet. Retrieved February 24, 2006, from www.healthpolicy.ucla.edu
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1999). The Surgeon General's call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Wadden. T., Stunkard, A., Rich, L., Rubin, C., Sweidel, G., & McKinney, S. (1990). Obesity in Black adolescent girls: A controlled clinical trial of treatment by diet, behavior modification, and parental support. Pediatrics, 85, 345-352.
Welk, G. (2004). Psychosocial correlates of physical activity in children: A study of relationships when children have similar opportunities to be active. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 8, 63-81.
Williamson, S., & Delin, C. (2001). Young children's figural selections: Accuracy of reporting and body size dissatisfaction. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 29, 80-84.
Lori E. Ciccomascolo, Ed.D., University of Rhode Island
Linda M. Grossi, M.S., Gilbert Stuart Middle School, Rhode Island
Lori E. Ciccomascolo, Ed.D.
Department of Kinesiology
University of Rhode Island
210 Flagg Road, RM 114
Kingston, Rhode Island 02881
Phone: (401) 874-5454