An innovative health and fitness program for adolescent girls, called TEEN ESTEEM(TM), has helped improve health and self-esteem in an inner-city school with a mostly African American and Latino population. The Rutgers University research study found that girls significantly lowered their BMI and LDL cholesterol levels for two consecutive years.

As teens around the world are becoming more overweight, the research is welcomed news,

Teen Health and Self-Esteem“Focusing our attention on vulnerable teen girls with even moderate increases in weight is critically important since studies show this is a population at risk,” said Kathleen Ashton, PhD, APRN, principal investigator, referring to results from the Nurses’ Health Study II recently released by the Harvard School of Public Health that found an increased risk of mortality in younger and middle-aged women who were overweight at age 18 (Annals Internal Med 2006; 145:91-7).

“Our study adds to what is known about the eating and exercise habits of teen girls and demonstrates how school systems can impact adolescent overweight and reduce risk factors for disease,” stated Dr. Ashton. Dr. Ashton is a clinical associate professor of Nursing at Rutgers University in Camden.

Ashton and her colleagues hypothesized that subjects in the experimental group who completed the Teen Esteem™ program would demonstrate greater levels of self-esteem, as measured by the Multidimensional Self Concept Scale (MSCS), improved scores on the nutrition and physical activity subscales of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS), and acceptable levels of Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure, waist circumference, blood glucose and cholesterol.

Participants were sophomore girls who voluntarily enrolled in the program with girls in regular gym classes serving as the control group. The girls were followed for the entire school year with data collected at the beginning and end of the school year. Two hundred and fifty six participants have completed the program to date. The 3-year study began September 2004 and will end June 2007.

Lead teacher Constance Kelley attributes the success of the program to the creation of a stronger student-teacher bond, expert attention from a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist, and the ‘all-girl’ environment. “I have 125 daughters,” she said, “and the students really seem to thrive on the structure with each day dedicated to a different focus on health and fitness.”

“This has been a great undertaking for all of us,” said Dr. Ashton. “It’s important to know how to work within school systems to implement initiatives such as Teen Esteem that address obesity and other pressing health problems. Teen Esteem targets teen girls who are potentially at high risk for developing heart disease and diabetes. We need to look at this problem now because research shows that heart disease begins in childhood and affects individuals throughout their lives. Hopefully, the healthier habits that they’ve established will continue into their adulthood.”

“We are very pleased to have the Teen Esteem program at Trenton High providing our female students with much needed information on health and the maintenance of healthy bodies,” said Rodney Lofton, Superintendent for Trenton City Schools. “As a result of their involvement in the program, they have become aware of the importance of a combination of good nutrition and exercise. It is our hope that this program will also serve Trenton families as our students share this valuable life-improving information with their own family.”

“We’ve developed a curriculum that impacts teen girls’ health choices and now have an intervention that helps reduce the risk of serious health problems,” said Ms. Arkus. “The WHF plans to conduct a feasibility study to examine the benefit of keeping the Teen Esteem program open after school hours as a low-cost fitness center for members of the community.”

“Students who have graduated from Teen Esteem could then continue the program. Our next step is to extend the hours and benefits of the existing program, then make the program available to other schools that have expressed interest. We will be looking for corporate partners and sponsors as well as volunteers. This is a great opportunity to make a real difference in the community. Our mission is to reduce the risk of heart disease in women and improve quality of life and this program is a vital part of that mission.”

Source: Womens Heart Foundation