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Pictures of health

September 2010

by Sheila Hotchkin

Ebany Espinoza
Ebany Espinoza, a Girl Scout and eighth grader at Tafolla Middle School in the San Antonio Independent School District, proudly displays her "Photovoice" project, which is contributing to research undertaken by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.
Researchers from the UT Health Science Center want to know how to inspire adolescent girls to be more physically active - a change that could boost the girls’ health now and throughout their lives. So they went straight to the source.

Their research collaborators now include dozens of Girl Scouts, ages 11 to 14, from the San Antonio and Edgewood Independent School Districts. Researchers outfitted the girls with cameras, global positioning system devices, laptops and journals and asked them to photograph anything that makes it easier or harder to be physically active in their communities.

The project was conceived by the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at the UT Health Science Center. But researchers took a relatively hands-off approach, letting their community partners tell them what was needed. Those partners included Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas, the Edgewood Family Network, community leaders, parents and the girls themselves.

"It’s not a top-down research project - it’s a community collaboration," said Deborah M. Parra-Medina, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. "They will be owners of the outcome as well."

Physical activity behaviors are formed early in life, so it’s important to reach girls early. Researchers plan to use the girls’ photos and other information from the community to devise new strategies to get girls moving. They plan to incorporate low-cost mobile and wireless technology, like text-messaging.

"What would it take to help girls be more active?" said Laura Esparza, M.S., project coordinator for the IHPR. "Also, what can we, as a community, do to support girls’ desires to be physically active?"

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