Study finds fathers are key to girls’ wellbeing

Aug 24 2016

By harnessing the unique relationship between fathers and daughters, the world-first DADEE (Dads And Daughters Exercising and Empowered) program run by University of Newcastle researchers has successfully improved girls’ self-esteem, resilience, sport skills and physical activity levels. 

Fathers also increased their physical activity levels and parenting skills, while reporting strong improvements in family bonding and a better understanding of the importance of the father-daughter relationship.

DADEE helped to spur greater interest from young girls in sports such as hockey, soccer, basketball, touch football and tennis, along with non-traditional pursuits like martial arts, AFL and boxing. Many daughters were reportedly eager to practice their newfound ball skills and fathers noted significant improvements in physical confidence and strength.

Lead investigator Professor Phil Morgan, from the UON’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, said the inaugural DADEE program enlisted 155 girls and 115 fathers after overwhelming public interest.

“The study findings were outstanding for both fathers and daughters. The biggest impacts were the daughters’ improvements in self-esteem, resilience, physical confidence and emotional control,” Professor Morgan said. “The social-emotional outcomes were among the best we’ve seen in research internationally.”

The study aimed to reverse a trend where less than 20% of Australian girls are sufficiently active and fewer than 10% can adequately perform basic skills such as kicking, catching and throwing upon entering high school. Compared to boys, girls enter sport around two years later and drop out six times faster.

Additionally, self-esteem and body image are major concerns for girls, particularly in the teenage years, which impacts on quality of life, Professor Morgan said.

“After participating, the girls felt better about themselves, had stronger relationships with their fathers and were more active within the family. We also saw dramatic improvements in sport skills and participation and a newfound confidence.”

During the eight-week course, fathers learnt evidence-based parenting strategies to optimise their daughters physical and mental health, while engaging in a variety of fun and active games and challenges.

The program emphasised the importance of ‘equalist’ parenting, where boys and girls are given equal encouragement to be physically active through life, and covered topics such as “pinkification”, female role models and community spirit.

“In addition to the impact on daughters, fathers also experienced meaningful improvements in a host of outcomes including increased physical activity, improved parenting practices and an improved relationship with their daughter,” Professor Morgan added.

“Interestingly, the biggest impact of the program was not necessarily what they anticipated. Many signed up to improve their daughter’s physical activity levels but left with a greater understanding of their important influence on their daughter’s wellbeing.”

The UON and HMRI are now set for wider rollout of the program and are seeking expressions of interest from fathers and daughters throughout Newcastle who wish to enrol. A new website - - and video are being launched to help recruit participants for the program’s next phase. For registrations, phone 4921 6566.

Initial funding was provided by Port Waratah Coal Services, the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation and HMRI. In 2015, DADEE won the national award for ‘Best study in physical activity and health promotion’ at the ASICS Sports Medicine Australia conference.

* 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 in Physical Activity and Nutrition and Faculty of Education & Arts at the UON. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.