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Schools Help Teen Girls "LEAP" Into Action

by Angela Hains



Participating in specialized physical-activity programs at an early age can help teenage girls be active and healthy both in their present and future lives, according to professors of exercise science at the University of Georgia and the University of South Carolina.

A research team led by UGA’s Rod Dishman and USC’s Russell R. Pate developed and evaluated the Lifestyle Education for Activity Program (LEAP) by focusing on two key areas: designing a girl-friendly physical education program and creating school environments that encourage girls to become and remain active.

Previous research showed that confidence and enjoyment play major roles in determining a girl’s voluntary amount of daily physical exertion. LEAP classes nurture these feelings through activities such as walking, dancing, aerobics, martial arts, weight training, and self-defense — mainly in a “girls-only” environment.

LEAP programs cultivate interest in exercise when girls are young, hoping to instill a lifelong habit. Girl-focused physical education courses begin in middle school, and health promotion programs for teachers ensure that students will see authority figures leading them in the right direction, both verbally and by example. School nurses, meanwhile, provide educational materials and one-on-one counseling on the benefits of an active lifestyle.

More typically, said Dishman, “as girls move through adolescence, physical activity levels drastically decline.” This can contribute to lower self-esteem, higher risk of depression, and a sedentary adult lifestyle with a higher risk of obesity and diabetes.

But 45 percent of girls in the LEAP program reported participating in vigorous physical activity on an average of at least a half-hour per day, as opposed to 37 percent in control schools.

“This is the first study to show that a comprehensive, school-based intervention can increase physical activity, both in and out of school,” Dishman said.

The results, reported in the September 2005 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, provide hope for counteracting recent national statistics showing that girls’ physical activity drops 80 percent between the ages of 9 and 18. This decrease is 20 percent larger than in boys of the same age.

For more information contact Rod Dishman at


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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