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I have the privilege on Wednesday of speaking at The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition & Health. hosted by the Biden-Harris administration, the conference is the first of its kind in a half-century.
As CEO of GENYOUth, the national nonprofit dedicated to creating healthier school communities, it’s an honor to have a role in this historic convening as a member of a panel addressing “The Power of Play.”
The crisis in physical inactivity among girls
A physically active lifestyle is linked with overall mental health during early adolescence. Despite the physical health, mental health, and learning benefits that it provides, fewer than 1 in 4 school-aged youth meet the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. This challenge is especially prominent among girls. Girls living in lower-income households and girls from communities of color are at even greater risk.
A serious drop-off as girls grow
Between the ages of 5 and 10, girls and boys participate in physical activity at similarly high rates. However, by adolescence, the participation rate for girls is 20% lower. By high school, just 18% of girls participate in 60 minutes of physical activity each day, as compared with 36% of boys. And when it comes specifically to sport, by age 14 girls drop out at twice the rate of boys. In fact, girls’ participation in sports begins to decline at age 9 and drops sharply in their teen years.
Insight from the experts
Recognizing the need to support more physical activity for all, and especially girls, GENYOUth conducted a series of research efforts with over 500 middle and high school physical education teachers from 47 states, representing 327 school districts. The findings reveal that decreasing physical activity among girls as they age is a major concern. Lack of confidence, concerns about physical appearance, lack of encouragement and support at home, and the intimidating nature of competitive programs are key factors that stop girls from being physically active.
Girls respond to activities that promote teamwork, prioritize connectedness, cooperation, and a sense of community over competition. Programs are needed that give students a voice about what they want and need from their school community; expand educational initiatives that build their self-esteem, confidence and body satisfaction while teaching them how to fuel their bodies; provide educators with resources to address equity, inclusion and accessibility issues as well as social, emotional well-being in the context of physical education and activity; and offer more socially inclusive and supportive physical activity opportunities that will sustain girls’ participation.
It’s time to Root4Her
GENYOUth and leading government, health, and education entities are jointly committed to partner in support of young girls’ social, emotional and physical well-being through programming that reflects the above principles. This commitment led us to create and pilot Root4Her, a new initiative that is a targeted strategy to level the playing field and provide confidence-building social and physical activity opportunities for girls.
Building on GENYOUth’s proven success in turnkey solutions including Fuel Up to Play 60 and NFL FLAG-In-School, Root4Her was developed with PE teachers and students, and designed to equip youth — especially girls — to care for their minds and bodies, providing equipment such as yoga mats that create opportunities for physical activity without competition, and inspiration to improve their self-esteem, body image, confidence, connectedness, and physical wellbeing. The program will also introduce girls to variety of role models, including both elite athletes and everyday peers who strive for physical, social, and emotional well-being.
The power of partnerships
The White House this week will agree voices and perspectives provided by the federal government; local, state, territory and tribal governments; nonprofit and community groups; and private companies to catalyze the public and private sector with a sense of urgency and action. I invite all stakeholders in the next generation’s success to seize the historic moment of this week’s agreeing to commit to helping, particularly when it comes to girls. Collectively, we can and should work together to empower girls to feel great about themselves, their physical abilities, and their future. It was Helen Keller who wrote, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”