After-School Physical Activity Programs for Adolescent Girls

Article excerpt

The following two articles conclude a three-part feature on health issues for active females. In the August issue, after an introduction by feature editor Lynda Ransdell, Sarah Warner and Janet Shaw described the relationship between estrogen levels, physical activity, and bone maladies such as osteoporosis, while Ro Di Brezzo and Gretchen Oliver offered strategies for preventing ACL injuries among the active female population. In the September issue, Mary K. Dinger described the various healthrisk behavious of active adolescent and young-adult females and offered advice on countering these behaviors, while Katherine A. Beals discussed the effects of subclinical eating disorders on this same group.

Few could have imagined the changes in women's sport participation that would take place following the passage of Title IX 28 years ago. Over 90,000 fans attended the final match of the Women's World Cup of soccer last year. The Women's National Basketball Association has continued to experience phenomenal success, averaging more than 11,000 fans per game (a 12% increase from the inaugural season) and expanding its number of franchises from eight in 1997 to 16 in 2000. The sociocultural changes that have resulted in the rising popularity of women's sports make it likely that little girls will be as familiar with female sports figures such as soccer's Mia Hamm or the WNBA's Cynthia Cooper as they are with male sports stars.

Despite this growth in sport opportunities for women, girls--particularly adolescent girls--remain the least active segment of the American population (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). In a recent review of literature concerning the effects of physical activity interventions on youths, Stone, McKenzie, Welk, and Booth (1998) concluded that: (1) most adolescents are not physically active on a regular basis, (2) girls are less likely to be physically active than boys, and (3) participation in physical activity declines with age. These data indicate that girls need specially designed physical activity programming outside of school, particularly during their middle school years (Stone et al.).

The purpose of this article is to examine the cognitive and affective responses of adolescent girls to an after-school physical activity program. From a strategic social marketing perspective, the planning of any intervention designed to increase the physical activity levels of adolescent girls must be grounded in listening to what the girls (the "customers") have to say about specific physical activities (the "product") (Weinreich, 1999). This article will describe how an after-school program was used as one such "listening" tool within a social marketing approach to promoting physical activity among adolescent girls. It is hoped that future intervention programs can benefit from knowing more about those aspects of physical activity programming that appeal most to this population.

"U Move with the Starzz"

The after-school program used for this study--"U Move with the Starzz"--involved a partnership between two Salt Lake City middle schools, the University of Utah, and the local WNBA franchise (the Utah Starzz). The school district in question was one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the state, with the two schools consisting of 24 and 46 percent ethnic minority students, respectively. Beginning in late September 1998, assemblies were held at each of the schools, wherein university students and a representative from the WNBA franchise spoke to the entire female student body about physical activity and its contribution to overall wellness. At the conclusion of the assembly, consent forms were handed out, inviting the girls to attend an after-school program beginning the following week.

During the same week as the assembly, a two-day physical activity camp was after school. All seventh- and eighth-grade girls who turned in signed consent forms were eligible to participate in this camp. …