Everybody needs physical activity for good health. However, most children do not participate in any organized physical activity during non-school hours. See how inclusive after-school programs can help increase physical activity among children of all abilities.
Children and adolescents ages 6 years and older should perform at least one hour of physical activity each day. This amount of physical activity helps control weight, improves mental health, bone health and fitness, and reduces risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Nevertheless, many children and adolescents are not getting this suggested amount of daily physical activity.
The lack of physical activity only increases for youth with a disability1. In fact, compared to youth without disability, youth with a disability have a 35 percent higher prevalence of overweight and obesity2 with an increased risk of secondary conditions associated with being overweight3.
After-school programs across the country have been working hard to provide opportunities for youth to get the recommended amount of physical activity. The most current data show that 10.2 million children take part in some after-school program and this number continues to rise4.
CDC’s funded partner, the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), is working with one such after-school program, Girls on the Run, to make the program more inclusive of young girls with disabilities.
Girls on the Run is a physical activity-based positive youth development program for young girls in grades 3 through 8. The program uses a fun, experience-based curriculum to teach life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games. Running and physical activity are used to inspire and to motivate the girls, to encourage lifelong health and fitness, and to build confidence through accomplishment. At the end of each 10-week season, the girls, their coaches, and running buddies (family and community volunteers) complete a celebratory 5k running event that gives them a tangible sense of achievement and a framework for setting and achieving life goals.
Sadie is participating in the Girls on the Run curriculum inclusion pilot program with Girls on the Run Birmingham (Alabama) this spring. Sadie is in the 4th grade at E.P.I.C. Elementary School. She has a number of medical conditions that limit her ability to participate fully in mainstream programming, such as hemiplegia cerebral palsy, visual impairment and active epilepsy. Initially, Sadie’s parents had some concerns about their daughter participating in this mainstream program. In fact, this is the first mainstream program that Sadie, who is now 10 years old, has been able to participate in, as her parents have struggled to find activities and organizations that are inclusive. Sadie’s Girls on the Run coaches used the new curriculum development by Girls on the Run and NCHPAD; they consulted Sadie’s mom to make sure Sadie and the rest of the team have a truly positive, engaging, and inclusive experience. “We really had to focus on Sadie’s stamina as too much fatigue would increase her chance of seizure activity, but we also wanted her to be able to complete the 5k at the end of the season,” said Coach Kelly Bonner. “We continually walked the balance beam of what was too much or not enough.”
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Adapting the Curriculum
NCHPAD joined with Girls on the Run to create an inclusive curriculum that includes all girls. NCHPAD adapted the Girls on the Run curriculum using its tool, GRAIDs: Guidelines, Recommendations, and Adaptations Including Disability. This tool separates core program components into 5 areas that can be adapted for people with disabilities:
Sadie loves Girls on the Run! She talks about it every day and looks forward to the next session. We appreciate the opportunity for her to participate in a program that encourages friendships, self-advocacy, self-confidence, health, and fitness.
– Sadie’s Mom, Carol Thomas
GRAIDs helps identify areas where adaptation is needed and provides recommendations for how best to adapt to make each area inclusive for people with disabilities. The result includes a set of evidence-informed recommendations or adaptations to put in the set curriculum or as an addendum to allow all kids regardless of ability to be able to take part in the program.
Fourteen of the 200 local councils across the U.S. implementing Girls on the Run are currently piloting the new inclusive curriculum. These 14 councils have the potential to reach over 16,000 girls in this spring season.
As the local councils implement the pilot program, Girls on the Run International is recognizing the need for additional changes, from the marketing to the practice space and 5k event locations. The new relationship with NCHPAD and the creation of the inclusive curriculum guide allows the councils to provide needed lesson adaptations for their girls and additional training for their coaches. Furthermore, it affords an opportunity for girls with disabilities to engage in physical activities with their peers.
As more organizations follow this example, youth of all abilities will find easier access to physical fitness and sports, which could potentially improve physical activity trends.
Interested in making your program inclusive of all? Contact NCHPAD to find out more about the GRAIDs framework and what you can do to help your organization Commit to Inclusion.
CDC would like to thank Sadie, Girls on the Run, and NCHPAD for sharing this story with us.
NCHPAD receives Disability and Health funding and support to improve the health, wellness, and quality of life of people with disabilities. NCHPAD seeks to help people with disabilities achieve health benefits through increased participation in many physical and social activities, including fitness and aquatic activities, recreational and sports programs, and adaptive equipment usage.