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Girls on the Run: Impact of a Physical Activity Youth Development Program on Psychosocial and Behavioral Outcomes

Maureen R. Weiss, Lindsay E. Kipp, Alison Phillips Reichter, Sarah M. Espinoza, and Nicole D. Bolter

Purpose: Girls on the Run is an after-school physical activity-based positive youth development program designed to enhance girls’ social, psychological, and physical development. We evaluated the effectiveness of the program by employing a longitudinal design and mixed methods. Methods: Girls (N = 203; aged 8–11 y) completed survey measures of positive youth development constructs (competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring), physical activity, and sedentary behavior prior to, at the end of, and 3 months after the season. Subsamples of girls, coaches, caregivers, and school personnel participated in focus groups. Coaches completed information about their team’s community impact project and number of girls who completed the season-ending 5k. Results: The full sample improved in confidence and connection, whereas girls who started below the preseason average showed the greatest gains from preseason to postseason on all measures, and scores were maintained or continued to improve at follow-up. All stakeholders in focus groups corroborated evidence of season-long improvement in social and emotional behaviors and health outcomes. Involvement in the community impact project contributed to girls’ growth in character and empathy skills. Conclusion: Findings provide empirical evidence that Girls on the Run is effective in promoting positive youth development, including season-long and lasting change in competence, confidence, connection, character, caring, and physical activity, especially among girls who exhibited lower preseason scores than their peers.

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Following Insufficiently Active Adolescents: What Predicts Whether They Meet Adult Activity Guidelines When They Grow Up?

Sarah M. Espinoza, Marla E. Eisenberg, Alina Levine, Iris W. Borowsky, Daheia J. Barr-Anderson, Melanie M. Wall, and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Background: We investigated the percentage of insufficiently active adolescents who became young adults meeting moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) guidelines. We also explored adolescent psychosocial and environmental factors that predicted MVPA guideline adherence in young adulthood. Methods: Participants included N = 1001 adolescents (mean age = 14.1 y) reporting < 7 hours per week of MVPA and followed (8 y later) into young adulthood through Project EAT. We examined mean weekly hours of MVPA, MVPA change between adolescence and young adulthood, and the proportion of participants meeting MVPA guidelines in young adulthood. With sex-stratified logistic regression, we tested 11 adolescent psychosocial and environmental factors predicting meeting MVPA guidelines in young adulthood. Results: Overall, 55% of insufficiently active adolescents became young adults meeting MVPA guidelines. On average, participants reported 3.0 hours per week of MVPA, which improved to 3.8 hours per week in young adulthood. Among female participants, higher MVPA in adolescence and stronger feelings of exercise compulsion predicted greater odds of meeting adult MVPA guidelines (odds ratioMVPA = 1.18; odds ratiocompulsion = 1.13). Among female and male participants, perceived friend support for activity in adolescence predicted greater odds of meeting adult MVPA guidelines (odds ratiofemale = 1.12; odds ratiomale = 1.26). Conclusions: Insufficiently active adolescents can later meet adult guidelines. Interventions that increase perceived friend support for activity may benefit individuals across development.

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Internal and Social Assets, Weight-Based Bullying, Sport, and Activity Among Female Adolescents

Sarah M. Espinoza, Christie L. Martin, Marla E. Eisenberg, Iris W. Borowsky, Barbara J. McMorris, and Laura Hooper

Via a school-based survey, we used a developmental assets framework to investigate associations of internal and social characteristics and weight-based bullying with sport and physical activity (PA) among female adolescents with high weight status (n = 4,468; M age = 14.9 years, SD age = 1.3; body mass index ≥ 95th percentile). Participants reported ≥60 min of PA on approximately 3.0 days (SD = 2.1) in the previous week. Over one-third played organized team sports, averaging 3.5 days (SD = 1.5) per week. Weight-based bullying was common (46%) and unassociated with lower sport and PA. Results from t-tests and chi-squared tests demonstrated that adolescents who played sport (vs. those who did not) had higher internal developmental assets, better perceived health, and stronger perceptions of caring from parents, friends, and other community adults. Similarly, adolescents engaging in more PA reported higher developmental assets. In regression models adjusted for all variables and demographic characteristics, higher internal developmental assets, better perceived health, and stronger perceptions of caring from adults in the community were positively and significantly associated with increased odds of sport participation and higher PA. Findings suggest female adolescents with high weight status have internal and social assets related to their participation in PA and sport, despite experiencing weight-based bullying. Adults (e.g., coaches, parents, and healthcare professionals) should help female adolescents with high weight status participate in sport and PA and build developmental assets. Adults should also recognize the frequent weight-based bullying youth encounter and strive to mitigate it in sport and PA contexts.