UNC-CH to lead $34 million effort to see if girls can become more fit

CHAPEL HILL - Obesity has reached all-time record levels in the United States for both sexes and all ages, and, over time, the result will be more heart disease and other illnesses such as diabetes, most doctors agree.

One reason for this epidemic of obesity is what some call "the couch potato syndrome." For example, half of all adolescent girls in this country fail to exercise vigorously enough to maintain their health long-term, according to national studies.

Now a new research effort called the Trial of Activity in Adolescent Girls (TAAG) will see if it's possible to reverse at least part of that disturbing trend in girls. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and six other universities have just been awarded grants totaling more than $34 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to support the TAAG project.

Dr. June Stevens, associate professor of nutrition at the UNC-CH schools of public health and medicine, is principal investigator for the study's coordinating center. The overall goal will be to improve girls' fitness levels to promote health and reduce their risk of obesity. "When girls hit middle school, many of them stop being physically active," Stevens said. "We want to find out if it's possible to prevent that decline in physical activity and to keep girls active and fit."

Researchers at the other six universities each will recruit six public schools and match them with two local programs such as clubs and athletic leagues that can offer structured physical activity for a total of some 3,000 seventh-grade girls. Using various fitness tests such as treadmills and activity monitors, investigators will learn how fit the girls are at the beginning and the end of the project two years later. That will show if such programs can increase activity and fitness and keep them at acceptable levels.

The coordinating center will make sure the study is done the same way at each site, prepare study materials and gath

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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