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Improving Physical Activity among Latina Girl Scouts

Grant: 1R24MD005096

For girls growing up on San Antonio’ West Side, exercise may not be as simple as a walk in the park. They encounter stray dogs and face traffic without sidewalks. Public resources like basketball courts are often in use by boys, leaving girls reluctant to seek a turn. And parents, fearing crime or unwanted attention, can be uneasy about letting girls roam unsupervised. That’s why IHPR researchers are testing a new program to increase girls’ opportunities to become more physically active. The program, “Be Fit with Friends,” gives girls many options—from basic fitness equipment like jump ropes to volunteer opportunities to online social media, fitness video games and text messaging—to help overcome barriers to physical activity. Thirty Girl Scouts from West Side troops began trying out the program in February, and researchers hope to include more this fall. “Be Fit with Friends,” a partnership between the IHPR and Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas, reaches out to girls in several ways: During troop meetings, Girls Scouts will learn physical activity basics, such as the difference between moderate and vigorous exercise or the importance of warming up; also at meetings, Girl Scouts will try several “mobile PA (physical activity) units”; to connect girls to community resources, weekend activities are planned, such as walks, golf, etc.; each girl will receive two step-counting pedometers for herself and a parent; on their cell phones, girls will receive motivational text messages, vote on favorite activities and more; and a Facebook page. West Side girls were key to creating “Be Fit with Friends.” Early in the project, a different group of Girl Scouts used cameras to document obstacles to physical activity in their neighborhoods. The girls expressed concerns about stray dogs, traffic and broken, uneven or missing sidewalks, and strangers. As researchers considered how to use technology in “Be Fit with Friends,” they surveyed 102 girls. Older girls typically had their own cell phones, while younger girls shared with family members or did not have cell phone access. The most popular social-networking sites were Facebook and YouTube. And girls had videogame consoles at home but rarely used them. Researchers also talked to parents, who were protective of daughters. Parents were largely unaware of community programs for girls that were accessible and affordable. Meanwhile, agencies from the project’s Community Advisory Board said they had programs and could be flexible on cost, but they need participation to continue them. The barriers identified through the photo project and information gleaned from the girls’ survey results helped spotlight opportunities for girls to get physical activity. Said study leader Dr. Deborah Parra-Medina of the IHPR: “We believe the girls and our community overall helped us design our ‘Be Fit with Friends’ program in a way that will give local girls a whole new perspective: that they can indeed find fun ways to engage in physical activity and overcome potential barriers.”

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Deborah Parra-Medina, IHPR at The UT Health Science Center

Dr. Cynthia Mojica, IHPR at The UT Health Science Center
Dr. Zenong Yin, UT San Antonio
Dr. David Akopian, UT San Antonio

Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas

News Release 3/9/11:
WABC-TV News Story 8/12/11:
KENS-TV News Story: 3/22/10: