Latina Girls Aspire to ‘Be Normal’ When Making Choices About Healthy Living...

Latina Girls Aspire to ‘Be Normal’ When Making Choices About Healthy Living According to New Girl Scout Research Institute Study

Latina Girls Cite Obstacles to Making Healthy Choices; Define Mothers as top Influencers for Embracing Healthy Habits


Washington, DC–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–January 25, 2006–A new Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) study sheds light on the childhood obesity crisis among girls, which affects one in five Latina girls in the United States today, by directly asking girls how they define health and what motivates them to lead a healthier lifestyle.

According to the study, which is also being released in Spanish, girls today define health as more than just eating right and exercising; it is also about positive self-esteem and getting support from family and peers. The study also finds that while Latina girls tend to have a more positive body image and tend to have a broader concept of beauty than their White and Asian counterparts — many are still not embracing healthy habits in their everyday lives.

“The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living,” combines focus group research with online surveys of more than 2,000 eight- to 17-year-old girls including 400 Latina girls. The study resulted in four broad findings amongst all of the girls surveyed:

— Girls have basic knowledge about healthy eating but often don’t act on this knowledge, making poor diet and exercise choices.

— Mothers exert tremendous influence as the most frequently cited source of health information and as role models for their daughters.

— For most girls, being healthy has more to do with appearing “normal” and feeling accepted than maintaining good diet and exercise habits

— Emotional health, self-esteem and body image play a critical role in girls’ attitudes about diet and exercise

“Bringing the voice of girls to the forefront of the conversation on childhood obesity gives us insight on how we can inspire and support girls to embrace lifelong healthy habits in ways that matter to them,” says Patricia Diaz Dennis, Chair, Girl Scouts of the USA National Board of Directors. “Girl Scouts will play an even greater role in partnering with local communities, schools and influencers to address the obesity epidemic facing all youth and in particular young Latinas, who are the second most overweight group of children in this country.”

What Girls Say vs. What Girls Do

While all girls in the study have basic nutritional knowledge and know the benefits of physical fitness, many don’t put this knowledge into practice. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Latina women are the least active of all ethnic groups, with 27.5 percent of Latina women spending less than 10 minutes a week on physical activity (vs. 12.5 percent of White non-Hispanics). The GSRI study finds that Latina girls reflect this adult trend and are the least physically active of all the participants surveyed.

With optional physical education classes, most girls are not getting regular physical activity at school. Nearly 60 percent of Latina girls say they do not participate in school sports with 33 percent citing a lack of energy as the primary reason. Thirty percent of Latina girls cited that they are not physically active (vs. 25% for White non-Hispanic girls).

During non-school hours, 11-17 year-old Latinas like their non-Hispanic counterparts, identify sedentary activities as their top three leisure activities of choice. As many as 50 percent of Latina girls occupy their spare time with TV viewing, followed by listening to music (30 percent) and using the computer (26 percent).

Obstacles at home and in school discourage many girls from adopting healthier eating habits. At school, vending machines, poor taste and quality of school lunches are all barriers. 58 percent of Latina girls make school vending machine purchases at least once or twice a week and 36 percent skip lunch at least once or twice a week— more than other participants surveyed.

At home, 43 percent of Latina girls eat in front of the TV at least three or four times per week. This decline in the frequency of family meals, increased television watching and computer use limit girls options and make poor health choices easier.

The Crucial Role of Mothers

The study finds that mothers play a crucial role in their daughters’ health habits. Findings show:

— Girls with active mothers are more likely to be active themselves.

— Girls with overweight mothers are more likely to be overweight.

— Girls whose mothers have a negative body image are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own bodies regardless of what the daughter actually weighs.

Nearly 60 percent of Latina girls (vs. 54 percent of White non-Hispanic girls) cite their mothers as role models and as leading sources of nutritional information. Girls also say mothers are their primary source of emotional reinforcement. While 11 percent of Latina girls say they almost never hear positive feedback on how they look, 89 percent report that their mothers make positive comments on how they look.

Given the influence mothers and female role models have on girls, efforts to improve the healthy living habits of girls must also target adults who take an active role in the lives of girls.

Looking “Normal”, Feeling Healthy

Nearly all girls, including Latinas, often associated their health goals as being a “normal” level of healthy, a concept they often associated with appearing normal and being supported by peers and family, as a priority. All of the girls in the study tend to view any diet or lifestyle choice as healthy as long as it doesn’t harm their appearance or their relationships with friends and family.

For Latina girls from new immigrant families, the concept of a “normal” level of healthy can be further exasperated as they acquire health habits considered “normal” amongst other girls in the US. According to the American Obesity Association this level of acculturation may actually further increase vulnerability in Latina girls and has a negative impact on food consumption, eating habits, and body image.

An Integrated View of Health

A strict focus on physical health does not resonate with girls. Virtually all girls agree that “emotional health is as important as physical health,” and 86 percent of Latina girls believe that feeling good about yourself is more important than how you look. Nearly 50 percent of Latina girls agree that being overweight is not a problem if you feel good about yourself (vs. 37 percent of White non-Hispanic girls). Girls’ view that physical and emotional health are of equal importance is also reflected in their behavior. For example, 32 percent of Latinas ages 11-17 reported eating more when they are “stressed out”, at least 10 percent more than the other girls surveyed. All girls also tend to be more prone to stress and worry than boys, making them more susceptible to this behavior. In the study, girls were generally more concerned than boys about every issue from getting along with friends to doing well in school to how they look.

Girl Scouts Take Action

For more than 93 years, Girl Scouts has offered girls innovative programs in sports, nutrition and health. The Girl Scout program engages girls in a wide range of activities that teach them about developing healthy everyday habits from the importance of getting enough exercise and sleep to good hygiene and learning about diseases like breast cancer. Knowing that girls have a more integrated view of health, Girl Scouts focuses not only on nutrition education, sports and physical activity, but also on girls’ self-esteem and emotional development.

Girl Scouts of the USA is a co-founder of Partners in Hispanic Education and serves Latina girls through a range of activities, including a National Latina Conference where teen Latinas tackle issues relevant to their lives today, and relationships with community leaders like the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. A partnership with Dove™ on the uniquely ME! program fosters positive self-esteem among girls, ages 8 to 17, in the United States and Puerto Rico. The program, supported by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, captures the Girl Scouts’ comprehensive approach to healthy living.

To encourage girls to bring their voice to conversations about healthy living in their community, Girl Scouts is calling on all girls and their families to get involved in the development and implementation of their local school wellness policy. As a result of a federal child nutrition law passed in 2004, every school district that receives federal school meal funds must establish a local “wellness policy” by the first day of the 2006-2007 school year. The law encourages the involvement of students and parents in formulating policies to address nutrition education and physical activity goals, nutrition standards, and other school-based activities that serve to promote and reinforce wellness messages.

Study Methodology

This study combined qualitative and quantitative research from the Girl Scout Research Institute and the Michael Cohen Group, a New York-based research firm. Between December 1-15, 2004, researchers conducted 16 focus groups representing a total of about 160 eight- to 17-year-old girls in four representative markets across the country. Following the qualitative research, a quantitative survey of more than 150 questions was administered online to a national stratified random sample of 2060 girls and 461 boys. In addition, a subsample of girls’ mothers was surveyed at length about their daughters, families and personal health and nutrition. The sample closely resembles the U.S. population on a variety of demographic characteristics, including race, education, marital status and geography.

About the Girl Scout Research Institute

The Girl Scout Research Institute, formed in 2000, is a vital extension of Girl Scouts of the USA’s commitment to addressing the complex and ever-changing needs of girls. Comprised of a dedicated staff and advisors who are experts in child development, academia, government, business, and the not-for-profit sector, the institute conducts groundbreaking studies, releases critical facts and findings, and provides resources essential for the advancement of the well-being and safety of girls living in today’s world.

About Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts of the USA is the premiere organization for and leading authority on girls with 3.8 million girl and adult members. Now in its 93rd year, Girl Scouting cultivates courage, confidence, and character in girls while teaching them the critical life skills to succeed as adults. The organization strives to serve girls from every corner of the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. For more information on how to join, volunteer, or donate to the Girl Scouts, call (800) GSUSA 4 U [(800) 478-7248] or visit For more information about Girl Scouts or the Healthy Living Study in Spanish call 866-830-8700 or visit

Latina Girls Aspire to ‘Be Normal’ When Making Choices About Healthy Living According to New Girl Scout Research Institute Study