Researchers from the University of Leicester are working with the Youth Sport Trust to determine whether a school-based physical activity programme could help provide the key to encouraging adolescent girls to be active and stay active.
The announcement comes on the final day (26 June) of the Youth Sport Trust's National School Sport Week, a celebration of PE and school sport with almost 5,000 schools across the country taking part this year.
Experts at the University's Diabetes Research Centre and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester-Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity Biomedical Research Unit, in collaboration with researchers from Loughborough, Bangor and Stirling, have secured £599,444 from the NIHR PHR Programme to investigate whether a school-based physical activity programme could be effective in influencing adolescent girls' physical activity levels.
The University's Diabetes Research Centre is a part of the Leicester Diabetes Centre - an alliance between Leicester's Hospitals, the University of Leicester, the local community and Primary Care and is located at Leicester General Hospital.
The research team has teamed up with the Youth Sport Trust to test the Girls Active school-based physical activity programme. Girls Active was set up by the Youth Sport Trust in 2014 and is delivered in partnership with Women in Sport. It seeks to tackle the relatively lower levels of participation by girls in PE and sport. Its focus is providing a support framework to enable schools to develop their own tailored approach to tackling the issues of lower participation, poor body image, and a lack of understanding of the benefits of PE and sport amongst the girls (11-14) attending those schools. The team is investigating how effective the programme is and whether it is value for money.
It has recruited 20 schools (involving approximately 1,600 girls aged 11-14 years) to take part in the study which is running in the Midlands with many of the schools coming from Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
The study includes measuring the physical activity levels of girls using a physical activity monitor worn on the wrist and participating girls are also completing questionnaires about their feelings towards physical activity, sport and PE.
Deirdre Harrington PhD, Lecturer in Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Health, was one of the team from the University of Leicester who helped secure the funding for the study.
She said: "The young people have been really interested in the research process and ask some great questions about what we are doing. Although some are initially nervous about being involved in a study, they soon are excited when they see how friendly and open the whole research team are."
And despite the pressure school staff and pupils are under, the research work was welcomed.
Dr Harrington said: "The school leads realise what a valuable piece of work this is. Even with the time pressure and exams looming they have accommodated us in whatever way they can as they want to support their young girls in becoming and staying active."
Douglas Keast, Assistant Principal and Director of Sport at Crown Hills Community College, the hub schools for this study, said:
"This is an exciting initiative which targets the issue of lower physical activity levels of girls in secondary schools, offering participating schools a huge amount of support from key experts.
"The programme challenges schools in terms of their current practice and helps create a plan which uses the student voice to shape the physical activity and sport specific to their context. This personalised approach has been embedded at Crown Hills with a hugely positive impact in terms of increasing girls' physical activity levels."
Youth Sport Trust Head of Health and Wellbeing Chris Wright added: "PE and sport have many significant benefits for girls across all areas of their lives - for their physical and mental health, leadership skills, confidence and academic attainment. However for some girls PE and sport at school feels awkward, uncomfortable and irrelevant so they are unable to access these benefits.
"Girls Active is designed to help teachers and girls work together to change the culture of PE and sport in their school so all girls see being active a part of who they are and what they do. It provides teachers with training and ongoing support, and girls with inspiration and resources to lead that change. This research is vital as it will provide us with evidence and support to deliver effective and impactful programmes with lifelong benefits."
Dr Harrington said: "Our research wants to emphasise that being active is much more than organised 'traditional' sport. It can be a jog with friends, a brisk walk to school or kicking a football around the garden with family. The health and social benefits are immense from whatever activity you choose."
The research team has said that if their research reveals Girls Active to be a success and value for money, the project could be something that all secondary schools in the UK could benefit from. It is hoping that the Girls Active work will lead to teenage girls becoming more active and healthier and remaining active when they are adults.