From Cause to Change: Leveraging the Collective Power of Women to End Childhood Obesity in Girls
by Kimberly S. Clay, PhD, MPH, MSW
Ten-year-old girls today are expected to live five years less than their mothers, according to a recent study by Nike on the growing epidemic of physical inactivity in the United States and the world. Only one in three girls in the U.S. is active on a daily basis, and more than 5 million American girls are obese, largely due to a lack of physical activity. Compared with other groups, African American and Latina girls – particularly, in the South where obesity-related diseases are most common – have higher rates of overweight and obesity. These girls are thought to be more likely to have low body esteem and greater concerns about peer influence.
In recognition of the problem, I set out to create a movement among women across the South that would highlight the value of behavior change to the broader community and identify ways communities can reap meaningful and measurable change by investing in cause-driven behavioral programs. In 2004, I convened a group of my girlfriends to create Sisterbration (www.sisterbration.com), an online community for women complemented by local grassroots activities and event marketing designed to engage women of all generations in discussions about women’s and girls’ health, their collective power to change health outcomes and responsibility to promote healthy lifestyle choices in the African American and Latino community.
In 2006, the group was formally incorporated as a not-for-profit organization and, in 2013, erected a new public facing under the name Play Like A Girl! (www.iplag.org) to more accurately reflect our renewed mission to inspire girls everywhere to live a happier, healthier and more active lifestyle by promoting physical activity as a path to health and success. Now in its tenth year, this 100% volunteer-run organization has invested over half a million dollars to create the early, positive experiences girls need to develop a lifelong passion for sport, physical education and active play.
With funding and support from partners like Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities and the U.S. Tennis Association, Play Like A Girl! engages girls from low-income communities in tennis instruction, nutrition education and mentoring twice a week for four hours after school. In recognition of our 10th anniversary, Play Like A Girl! will kick off a yearlong series of initiatives under the banner, “When I Was 10..,” to leverage the collective power of women across the South to raise awareness of childhood obesity in girls and to inspire behavior change in their local communities.
As part of this milestone and first step in the celebration, we are recruiting hundreds of women to lead our new bike+buggyTM play groups for girls and moms – an unprecedented collaboration to bring physical activity back to African American and Latino communities and neighborhoods. The program provides simple steps and tools to help mothers create active environments to get girls moving. Women leading these playgroups will be responsible for organizing city-wide fitness events and coordinating social media campaigns targeting women and girls in their local communities. The focus of this new initiative is to get girls and their moms back to basics when it comes to nurturing their bodies and their relationships while getting needed physical activity. Women interested in leading a bike+buggy play group can learn more and apply at Play Like A Girl! (www.iplag.org).
Dr. Kimberly S. Clay, aka Dr. Kim, is Executive Director and founder of Dallas-based charity, Play Like A Girl!®. On a mission to inspire women and girls across the globe to live a happy, healthy and active lifestyle, Dr. Kim has set out to finally triumph in her own struggle with obesity by creating what she calls her “best me yet” in 2014-15. Sisterbration is the space she has dedicated to documenting the journey and her musings.