Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, MBA, Director of Behavioral Research at Kaiser Permanente Department of Research & Evaluation recently released a report showing that physical activity is on the decline for girls beginning at middle school age. The study, which focused on girls ages 14-23, finds several reasons girls are less active, one being not enough access to parks, sports facilities and school gyms in their communities.
Young’ study, which included 460 girls from various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, was recently published in the Journal of Adolescent health. Here’s what Dr. Young has to say:
Q: What does your most recently published research tell us about health and physical activity?
Physical activity continues to decline for girls ages 14 (middle-school age) to 23 years. Those with higher mother’s education, lower body mass index, more behavioral strategies to be active, more social support to be active, and those living near parks had higher physical activity. Teaching and reinforcing these strategies—such as how to set goals and reward oneself and how to find friends or family members to support their physical activity—may be important. City planners should also make sure they leave room for plenty of parks and green space.
Q: Your research stretches into many areas of physical activity and health. What are some of the other findings you would like to share?
In the past 5 to 10 years we’ve learned that being physically active and being sedentary are not a continuum on the same scale. And that health benefits of being highly active can diminish if a person is also highly sedentary. This is a hard message to understand: Going for a 30-minute brisk walk every day and then sitting at a desk or in front of the TV for the rest of the day carries health risks. While there are not yet U.S. guidelines for how much sitting is too much, we have learned that the greatest health benefits are associated with being physically active combined with not spending too much time being sedentary.
Q: If you had to think back, is there a single moment in your life that sparked your interest in what you’re doing now?
I worked in an exercise physiology laboratory right out of college and enjoyed learning about how regular physical activity benefits the cardiovascular system. For these studies we recruited people who were either very active or very inactive. I became interested in “who are these people who are very physically active” and “why/how do they maintain this behavior?” Trying to address these questions led me to post-graduate studies and a continued pursuit of finding answers. We’ve learned how complex the behavior is and how many factors coincide with each other to make it easier or harder to become or stay active.
Q: As a behavioral researcher, do you incorporate what you’ve learned into your own life?
Of course! I’m fortunate to live in a neighborhood that makes it easy to be active. I try to get out for a 3-to-4-mile run in the mornings. It feels good to be outside in the fresh air and hear the birds chirping. I’ve learned that having goals is important – it can be too easy to say “oh, maybe I’ll go tomorrow” if I don’t have firm goals. I’m not so good at the self-rewarding part, though!