Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Promoting Physical Activity in Girls: A Case Study of One School's Success

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Promoting Physical Activity in Girls: A Case Study of One School's Success

Article excerpt

In the United States, physical activity declines beginning in late elementary school and continuing through high school and into young adulthood. (1,2) National surveys indicate that fewer than two-thirds of youth report participating in vigorous physical activity (VPA) on three or more days per week, (3) and only 67% of ninth-grade girls and 45% of 12th-grade girls report participating in VPA for 20 minutes on three or more days per week. Furthermore, data show a 100% decline in physical activity in Black girls between ages 9-10 and 16-17, and a 64% decline in physical activity in White girls during the same period. (4)

Increasing physical activity in all age groups is a major goal of the plan for promoting the nation's health. (5) As early as 1996, the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health (6) and Guidelines for School and Community Programs to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity in Young People (7) recommended the study of coordinated, school-based physical activity interventions linked to community programs and designed to increase physical activity both in and out of school. In 2000 the Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services identified strategies to promote better health for the nation's youth through physical activity and fitness. (8) These strategies include providing physical education (PE), health education, and extracurricular physical activities on a regular basis to all children and youth in order to promote adoption and maintenance of a physically active lifestyle. Most school-based interventions, however, have targeted elementary and middle school children, (9-13) and few have attempted to create a physical and social environment designed to promote physical activity in high school students, particularly girls. (9,14) Further, gender differences are known to influence the effectiveness and reach of traditional PE programs, but are addressed infrequently. (15)

This case study describes in detail the experiences of one high school that tailored a comprehensive school-based intervention to fit the context of the school to increase physical activity among girls. Modifications made in instruction, school environment, and school policies to increase the school's capacity to promote physical activity participation in ninth-grade girls are described. Change in physical activity participation is examined in ninth-grade girls following one academic year of exposure to a tailored intervention.


The case study school (CSS) was part of a larger National Institutes of Health study that included 24 high schools in South Carolina. The purpose of the NIH study was to examine the effects of a comprehensive school-based intervention on physical activity in high school girls. Schools were pair matched on race, urban/suburban or rural location, and class structure (60- or 90-minute classes). Schools from each pair were randomly assigned to control or intervention group. Baseline data were collected in spring 1998 and 1999 on two successive cohorts or 'waves' of eighth-grade girls attending 31 middle schools that fed the 24 participating high schools. A total of 2,744 girls, 97% of those recruited, completed baseline measures; 48% were African American, and 47% were White. All girls received the intervention during their ninth grade year, and follow-up data were collected during spring of ninth grade (N = 2,111).

Based on a process evaluation conducted by an independent evaluator, seven of the 12 intervention schools were identified as "high intervention implementers." Although these schools differed in resources and the quality and extent of their intervention development and implementation, each showed significant progress in achieving the Essential Elements (Table 1). The high intervention implementer schools differed from the low implementer schools on three Essential Elements: LEAP Team, providing lifelong physical activity in physical education, and faculty/staff health promotion program. …

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