Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Culture, class, race and fitness

The need for a fitter population is a concern frequently covered by the media. Yesterday I mentioned the WSFF report on the state of women's fitness in Great Britain. There was no mention, though, in the coverage I saw of the report, about disparities in fitness levels across racial and class lines. In the United States that concern is very real and many are trying to address it.
When I was in graduate school in Boston I worked on a project funded, in part, through the Women's Sports Foundation where organizations that offered programs aimed at increasing the participation of girls in sports and physical activity--especially girls of color and those from working and lower class backgrounds--received grants to continue (or begin in some cases) their work. In return, some eager researchers came in and observed the process and collected data.
Boston was a target city because statistics at the time showed boys in the city had twice as many participation opportunities as girls.
Yesterday, Billie Jean King and Kristine Lilly were in Boston to launch the latest WSF GoGirlGo! program. Though the program I worked on and this one are separate entities I imagine some of the same groups will be involved and the research (about successful models, girls' likes/dislikes, levels of activity, etc.) from the previous one will be of assistance to current project coordinators and participants.
But if you've aged out of GoGirlGo!, don't worry, there's an excellent model of getting fit and then helping others do so as well in 28-year old Jeanette Arroyo of New Jersey. As a teenager she weighed over 200 pounds. After successfully getting fit and losing over 100 pounds, Arroyo decided that she needed to help the Mexican-American community in which she lives. Mexican-American women are one and a half times more likely to be obese than the general population. Recognizing the need, Arroyo opened up her gym, Shape and Tone, that caters largely to Mexican immigrants. And though her following is small, they're loyal. The article addresses the cultural constraints placed on women's physical activity--something we often think about in "foreign" populations like Muslim women in Palestine--but fail to address within our own borders because of a belief in an egalitarian society.

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