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Smart Fit Girls: A Novel Program for Adolescent Girls Improves Body Image

Kellie Walters, Christine Chard, Katherine Ann Jordan, Denise Anderson

Abstract


Body dissatisfaction in girls increases throughout adolescent years and is associated with the development of eating disorders, obesity, and physical inactivity. Adolescent girls often define health in relation to their body size and/or body shape, and these culturally determined expectations of a woman’s body often constrain them from participating in healthy behaviors, including physical activity. Adolescent girls are less likely to engage in, and enjoy, physical activity compared to adolescent boys. As a result of this health disparity, the Smart Fit Girls (SFG) program was developed to address the unique health concerns of middle school girls. SFG was developed using Self-Determination Theory as a theoretical framework, with a focus on fostering the participants’ autonomy, competence, and relatedness. During the program, girls participate in activities specifically designed to improve body image. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the potential impact of SFG, a novel weight training and psychosocial health program, on middle school girls’ body image. Adolescent girls (N = 45) in sixth to eighth grades in South Carolina and Colorado participated in this study. A qualitative design utilizing focus groups was used to explore the lived experiences of participants as it related to their body image. Six focus groups were used to assess the influence of SFG on participants’ body image. Participating in SFG resulted in improved body image which was due to a change in the girls’ perspective of what it meant to be a “perfect girl,” a shift in body judgement, focusing more on body utility, and realizing they were not alone in experiencing body image concerns. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study examining the impact of a combined physical and psychosocial intervention on adolescent girls that focuses on weight training. Results provide information about how body image can be improved in adolescent girls and supports the adoption of SFG for communities interested in improving girls’ body image. If organizations want to improve the health of adolescent girls in their communities, they should consider including activities geared toward improving their psychosocial health as well. This study contributes to the current body of literature by providing avenues through which an intentionally designed program improves body image in adolescent girls and supports the use of research to avoid the “black box” of programming.

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Keywords


body appearance; intentional programming; adolescent girls' health; physical activity; weight training

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18666/JPRA-2020-10373

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