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$3.6 million nursing research project promotes exercise for girls

EAST LANSING, Mich. With the help of a $3.6 million federal grant, a Michigan State University nursing researcher is expanding a pilot program statewide to help middle school girls particularly minority girls in urban, low socioeconomic settings increase their physical activity.

The five-year Girls on the Move project, led by Lorraine Robbins of the College of Nursing and funded by the National Institutes of Health, focuses on individual and web-based counseling sessions with school nurses and an after-school physical activity club.

Less than 4 percent of middle school girls meet physical activity recommendations, Robbins said, and as they progress from sixth- to eighth-grade, moderate to vigorous physical activity declines, contributing to weight gain. The decline is particularly evident among urban, minority girls of low socioeconomic status.

School nurses are well positioned to drive school-based health programs such as those targeting physical activity, she said: "Nurses can adequately counsel students on increasing physical activity by exploring their personal, and sometimes unique, perceptions and providing support for positive change."

Robbins said the success of the pilot program at the two Lansing middle schools led to the new federal funding. Compared to the control school, students at the intervention school showed trends toward greater improvement in all physical measures: minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per hour, cardiovascular fitness, body mass index, body fat percentage and waist circumference.

In addition, she added, as rapport was established with the school nurse, the girls became more willing to share their thoughts and express concerns, including those related to their general health and well-being.

Now, the 17-week intervention will expand to schools in Jackson, Flint, Ypsilanti, Detroit, Muskegon and Kalamazoo.

"Our long-term goal is to increase moderate to vigorous physical activity as a means to address the high overweight and obesity prevalence among adolescent girls, thus reducing the risk for cardiovascular health problems," she said.

Girls on the Move has three main components: (1) a 15-minute motivational, individually tailored counseling session with a school nurse; (2) an interactive web-based counseling session during which each girl receives motivational, individually tailored feedback messages; and (3) a group-level component made up of a 90-minute physical activity club offered after school four days a week.

To bridge the gap between the after-school club and the counseling, a school nurse attends the club two times per month.

The aim is to evaluate the ability of the program to increase middle school girls' physical activity and improve cardiovascular fitness, body mass index and body fat percentage, immediately after the program and at a nine-month follow-up.

Co-investigators on the grant include Karin Pfeiffer from MSU's Department of Kinesiology, Kim Maier from the College of Education, and Ken Resnicow and Lawrence An from the University of Michigan.


Contact: Jason Cody
Michigan State University

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