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18 October 2006 PR 06/120

GirlForce initiative to be piloted in UK

A pioneering initiative that encourages girls and young women to adopt a healthy lifestyle and positive self-image through education and sport is to be staged for the first time ever in the UK.

The GirlForce programme – which was developed in the United States by Vanderbilt University, Nashville – uses a mentoring system whereby older girls act as role models and ‘tutors’ to younger girls. By engaging with girls who are still in primary or middle school, the scheme aims to enable them to make positive health and lifestyle choices to establish good habits for life.

Through physical activity and interactive sessions the girls look at the advantages of an active life and are made aware of the potential dangers of unhealthy activities such as smoking, lack of exercise, poor eating habits and negative body image.

The inaugural GirlForce project in this country is being supported by two Leicestershire School Sports Partnerships – Lancaster, and Blaby and Harborough. Girls and staff from nine schools will be involved.

The programme will involve three main phases:

The GirlForce programme has been hugely successful in the USA, with almost 14,000 participants having completed the programme. It has made an immediate impact on the physical activity levels of participants and has demonstrated statistically significant improvement in girls’ attitudes towards smoking, exercise, healthy eating and body image.

“It’s really exciting to see the GirlForce programme being rolled out to other countries,” says Susan McDonald, director of the programme in the US.

“Older girls are natural role models for the younger ones. They really look up to them and pay close attention to what they say and do. It’s a great opportunity to have a positive impact.”

The programme is being staged in this country by the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport at Loughborough University, in conjunction with Vanderbilt University – its aim is to deliver a totally inclusive programme.

“The US programme has had girls who have disabilities participating in the GirlForce project, but we’re recruiting mentors who have disabilities too, which is a first,” explains Ken Black, director of the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport.

“Girls who have disabilities share the same body image and healthy eating issues as their non-disabled peers, but their lifestyle choices may be more limited. In the scheme here disabled and non-disabled girls will experience the GirlForce programme together.

“Information we gain from this pilot project will then be extended to other UK school partnerships, and be introduced to the programme in the USA, enabling them to develop a more inclusive approach.”

– Ends –

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Notes to editors

  1. The Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport is a joint venture between Loughborough University, specifically the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences (SSES) who host the project, and The Peter Harrison Foundation. It exists to generate and implement research and development projects in the area of disability sport and inclusive physical activity and has a wide-ranging brief, with grassroots development and the inclusion of previously under-represented groups a core aspect.

  2. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place it in the top flight of UK universities; the National Student Survey ranked Loughborough equal first among full-time students; and industry highlights the University in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 40% of Loughborough’s income is for research, and 60% for teaching. The University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development; and for its outstanding work in evaluating and helping to develop social policy-related programmes.

    In 2006 Loughborough celebrates the 40th anniversary of its University Charter, awarded on 19 April 1966 in recognition of the excellence achieved by Loughborough College of Advanced Technology and its predecessor Colleges. Loughborough University of Technology was renamed Loughborough University in 1996.

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