IN the modern, post-feminist world, girls are taught, quite rightly, that the world is their oyster – that there are no limits to the jobs they can do, or the things they can achieve.
At the same time, however, immense pressures are brought to bear on young women to conform to traditional stereotypes about what it means, supposedly, to be female.
In the words of University of Newcastle academic Phil Morgan, girls are still pushed to focus more on ‘‘physical appearance than physical function’’.
Professor Morgan, a co-director of the university’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Education and Nutrition, has an impressive track record when it comes to putting his academic interests to practical ends.
His 2009 program, Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids, is still running five years later and has won a series of national and international awards for its success in motivating families to optimise their eating and exercise habits.
Now, Professor Morgan has unveiled a new research program – Dads and Daughters Exercising and Empowered, or DADEE – with the aim of recruiting at least 50 families for an eight-week series of sessions involving a range of physical activities and challenges designed to improve the fitness, confidence and physical competence of the girls, and to help the fathers hone their parenting practices and their fitness.
Professor Morgan, who gained his bachelor degree and his PhD at Newcastle, began his academic career with a focus on targeting obesity, but his newest project has much broader aims than weight control.
He says that despite the breaking down of gender stereotypes, girls still fall behind their male peers when it comes to taking up sport, and sticking with it. He says fathers – or male role models in general for families where a father is not present – are powerful motivators in encouraging physical activity.
While some of this may appear, at first glance, to be simple commonsense, Professor Morgan says it is important to develop programs that actually make a difference.
To this end, the DADEE study will be tested statistically to see whether its methods have proved effective.
It is programs such as this that remind the public – if any such reminding is needed – of the important role that the University of Newcastle plays in the life of this community, and of the importance of fostering home-grown research.
Port Waratah Coal Services should be acknowledged, also, for a $300,000 contribution that will effectively underwrite the cost of this program.
At a time when the temptations for a sedentary lifestyle, in front of a device, are ever increasing, the need to find practical ways to keep kids moving has never been greater.