A world-first lifestyle program developed at the University of Newcastle, designed to help enhance the physical and emotional wellbeing of young girls, is set to expand internationally for the first time.
The Dads and Daughters exercise program, created by renowned physical activity researcher Professor Phil Morgan and his team with support from the Hunter Medical Research Institute, will be replicated in England to help low-income families in London get active with their children.
Sport England has awarded UK organisation Women in Sport with a $A1 million grant over three years to deliver the program in partnership with the Fatherhood Institute, Fulham Football Premier League Club and the English Football League Trust. The University of Newcastle will also partner with Women in Sport to provide internationally-regarded expertise and guidance.
The Dads and Daughters Exercise Program has proven successful in Australia in increasing the physical activity levels, sports skills and social-emotional wellbeing of girls and their families.
Deputy Director at UON’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Professor Phil Morgan said the program was designed to engage fathers to help instill primary school-aged girls with the physical and psychological skills needed for a healthy life.
“The beauty of the Dads and Daughters program is that fathers and daughters act as agents of change. It encourages fathers and father figures to play a greater role in supporting their daughters to develop physical confidence and competence, while at the same time helping daughters develop the social-emotional skills to optimise their self-esteem,” Professor Morgan said.
“Expanding to the United Kingdom is an exciting opportunity and demonstrates the global relevance and significance of this unique program.”
Targeting families from lower socio-economic groups, with at least one female child aged between five and 11 years, the program will include families where girls do less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity outside school on one day or less per week.
Over nine weekly 90-minute group sessions, combining practical and educational activities, the program teaches girls sports skills through physical activities and fun games such as rough-and-tumble play and; educates fathers about positive lifestyle role-modelling and evidence-based parenting strategies.
Dads and Daughters also provides fathers with positive parenting strategies to empower girls to resist the culture of gender prejudice that exists in many aspects of their lives, particularly regarding physical activity and sport. In the program, fathers learn to become positive gender equity advocates for their daughters, and girls learn key social-emotional skills including resilience, persistence and critical thinking.
“This partnership opportunity will initially involve 260 families in London areas such as Hammersmith and Fulham, including up to 650 dads and daughters, so it is exciting to think about the number of lives that will benefit from the experience,” Professor Morgan said.
“We would like to see girls in the program achieving a minimum 15% increase in physical activity levels outside school, and for this improvement in their physical activity to be maintained for at least nine months after finishing the program.”
The program will be suited to the target audience as sessions are free and participants receive a kit they can use at home. It's also flexible and accessible, with sessions taking place when both dads and daughters can attend, and in the familiar, non-threatening environment provided by football clubs.
Professor Morgan said fathers were one of the key role models and motivators in a girl’s life.
“The father-daughter relationship is associated with significant psycho-social development and health outcomes and physical activity provides a unique opportunity to foster this important relationship,” Professor Morgan said.
Professor Morgan will lead the train-the-trainer sessions in London to enable the various community and sporting groups to run the program from 2019.
Initial funding for Dads and Daughters was provided by Port Waratah Coal Services, the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation and HMRI. The program builds on the results from Professor Morgan’s award-winning Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids study.
* The research team comprises Professor Philip Morgan, Dr Alyce Barnes, Professor David Lubans, Dr Myles Young, Dr Narelle Eather, Emma Pollock and Kristen Saunders from the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition and Faculty of Education & Arts at the University of Newcastle. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.