With the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending that children should participate in 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day to improve their health, childhood physical activity is very much in the research spotlight at the moment. Figures demonstrate that up to 64% of children are not benefitting from the daily recommended levels of physical activity, with girls being at greater risk of inadequate physical activity, and also seeing a larger decline in levels of pre-adolescent physical activity, than boys.
However, guidelines demonstrate that positive role models could help to promote and encourage girls to participate in physical activity. The CHARMING (CHoosing Active Role Models to INspire Girls) study explored the development of a school-based “role model” intervention to promote sustained changes in physical activity and increase awareness of healthy lifestyle behaviours in girls aged 9-11. The study focused on recruiting role models who were connected with local community activities and who could inspire pre-adolescent girls to take up more physical activity through sports taster sessions in schools. CHARMING was centred on two primary schools in deprived areas in both urban and rural Wales, with key providers of physical activity groups such as Sports Wales, Sport Caerphilly and Sport Cardiff involved as community partners.
Focus groups with girls from each school revealed that many of them were not currently taking part in any structured physical activity in the community and that there were limited local sports clubs available, with new clubs not lasting long. However, although the girls did express an interest in certain sports (including swimming, football, gymnastics, netball and golf), further meetings with parents and community partners highlighted that both geographical and financial barriers, combined with a lack of awareness and sustainable groups, contributed to preventing girls from participating in local sports clubs and teams. School teachers also highlighted that they were lacking in resources and links with local sports groups to enable them to facilitate physical activity sessions in schools, despite the school environment being considered the primary provider of physical activity for these girls.
With numerous barriers preventing girls from accessing local physical activity groups, community partners recognised that influential members of the community had the potential to facilitate family involvement in sport and physical activity by delivering taster sessions or signposting sporting opportunities to school girls. CHARMING worked with Sport Cardiff and Sport Caerphilly to identify and recruit role models from existing sports clubs (from grassroots to elite level) who could deliver physical activity taster sessions in schools and signpost girls to existing local sports clubs and physical activity groups in their communities. Particular emphasis was placed upon utilising existing community resources and establishing links with local clubs and facilities, however, there were some challenges along the way which made it difficult to identify role models and local facilities that could promote sustainable physical activity for girls.
Despite the CHARMING study only being in the early stages of research, it has illustrated the current challenges faced by school and community sports and physical activity in South Wales, as well as highlighting some interesting routes to be considered for future research. It is evident that involving local sports providers early on and having key contacts within community partner groups are key factors in identifying role models successfully. However, there is a lack of local sport and physical activity opportunities and facilities for girls aged 9-11 to be signposted to and combined with a lack of resources to develop new and sustainable opportunities, this has resulted in challenges accessing local sports provisions for girls. Therefore the CHARMING project could be a valuable opportunity for school girls to start their “physical activity journey” and offer them routes to sustain this in future.
The project is now in the process of developing national links with other research groups and enhancing existing community collaborations. You can read more about it now through the CHARMING Report, or by keeping an eye on our website for updates.
This Cancer Research UK funded project is led by DECIPHer’s Dr Kelly Morgan of Cardiff University, and it ran from December 2015 to December 2016. For further information on the project, please contact Kelly on (029) 20 870 296, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.