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Center for Engagement and Community Development

Girl Scouts Wellness Promotion in Northeast Kansas

Project Title:        Girl Scouts Wellness Promotion in Northeast Kansas   

Abstract

Many children and adolescents fail to achieve recommendations for physical activity, nutrition, and healthy weight status—failures that may jeopardize their health over both short-term and long-term time frames. Over the past 10 years, we have worked with the regional Girl Scouts council to address healthful eating, physical activity and obesity prevention among school-aged girls in 22 counties of Northeast Kansas. The community and expert partnership constitutes engaged scholarship, featuring mutual benefit for the community and the university. These benefits stem from providing much-needed and appreciated services to the Girl Scouts council service units, providing research opportunities for university faculty and students, and education for Girl Scouts troop leaders, girls, their parents, and K-State student research assistants.

Over the past decade, our Girl Scouts Wellness project has gone through phases of development and iterations based on lessons learned and evolving needs. The early phase of our project was marked by gaining greater mutual understanding of the Girl Scouts and K-State cultures, followed by the development of a practice-based evidence base. The middle phase showed further evolution, adaptation, and implementation of the evidence base to further our community and expert partnership, and to address the needs of two low-income counties that both rank among the lowest 10 counties in Kansas Child & Family Wellbeing Indicators (Wyandotte and Shawnee). In the most recent phase, we have prioritized the wider adoption of wellness promotion training, including a strong focus on scale-up and sustainability.

Over the course of the three project phases, hundreds of troop leaders have participated in wellness training, with subsequent impact on more than one thousand girls and their parents. Outcomes of our project have included: 1) The designation of our work as a Research-Tested Intervention Program with the National Cancer Institute; 2) A wellness-promoting practices website for troop leaders; 3) Unique Girl Scouts wellness promotion curricular materials; 4) Numerous national and international scientific presentations and peer-reviewed publications that have been cited and used to inform policy; 5) Stronger connections between our university and the region; 6) Training the next generation of public health researchers and practitioners in engaged scholarship. Over the course of this project, our community and expert partnership has only strengthened, and the sustainability of our efforts is promising as we continue to explore ways for mutual benefit and ongoing community impact.

The Partnership:

Girl Scouts of the USA is the preeminent leadership development organization for girls, with 3.2 million girl and adult members worldwide. Girl Scouts is the leading authority on girls' healthy development, and recognizes that girls making healthy choices and promoting healthy living are necessary to the foundation they need to become strong leaders. Since 1912, Juliette Gordon Low, founder of Girl Scouts, believed that health, nutrition, and fitness were essential to the Girl Scout experience. Girl Scouts hiked, played basketball, went on camping trips, and were encouraged to prepare healthy meals. Engaging content and activities supporting girls’ attainment of practical life skills related to healthy living are woven throughout the national leadership Journey program. The organization serves girls from every corner of the USA and its territories. The Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri Council serves 22 Kansas counties, including three of the most populous of the state, around the metropolitan areas of Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas. Recent membership data for the council show there were 14,313 participating girls, and 4,371 adult members in Northeast Kansas. According to council membership data, 13 to 21% of all the population’s girls in grades K-5 participated in Girl Scouts in 2013, with highest participation rates in grades 2-3.

From the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University, the project has been led from inception by Dr. Richard Rosenkranz, who completed his doctoral dissertation in 2008 based on community-engaged research evaluating Girl Scouts summer programming and an intervention program where leaders where trained to deliver a tailored family meals oriented health promotion curriculum and enact troop policies to encourage healthy eating and physical activity. Since the completion of those studies, Dr. Rosenkranz has worked with three fellow faculty members, a doctoral student, four masters students, and 10 undergraduate students, all affiliated with the Physical Activity and Nutrition Clinical Research Consortium (PAN-CRC). This 6,400-square-foot facility supports research meant to impact the quality of life of people throughout their life span. The objectives of PAN-CRC are: 1) To significantly enhance the research capabilities and competitiveness for funding opportunities of faculty in the College of Human Ecology; 2) To provide faculty collaborative opportunities for interdisciplinary research within the college, nationally and internationally; & 3) To be recognized nationally and internationally as a provider of high-quality student research training in nutrition and physical activity human clinical research methods.

Over the past decade the Girl Scouts council officers and Dr. Rosenkranz’ team has worked together to provide greater opportunities for girls to build leadership skills and develop “courage, confidence, and character” through healthy and enjoyable scouting experiences. This partnership has been dedicated toward reorientation toward the original foundational vision of Girl Scouts with health, nutrition, and fitness being essential to the Girl Scout experience. The council officers have provided leadership in ensuring that our leader training is culturally appropriate, that our intervention materials are relevant and integrated within the core Girl Scouts mission, and in facilitating the recruitment of leaders across the region. The Girl Scouts service unit leaders have provided us with valuable meeting time during monthly meetings to conduct group wellness training in person, and have facilitated adoption of our individual wellness training. The individual troop leaders have provided input on their needs, as well as barriers and facilitators to provision of wellness training and supporting materials. K-State graduate students have conducted needs assessments, focus groups, developed training materials, and delivered wellness training, along with conducting program evaluations and making professional presentations regarding the research. K-State undergraduates have assisted graduate students in these functions, and collected program evaluation data. All students have received education in research ethics, community-based intervention, program evaluation, direct observation measurement, and communication.

Lessons Learned and Best Practices:

Girl Scouts balances many priorities, and sometimes seems to lose sight of wellness as priority. The officers from the council seem to believe that their scouting opportunities are inherently focused on wellness areas of physical activity, healthy eating, and social connections, but our needs assessment and pre-intervention data have shown large gaps and potential opportunities for improvement. There are many positive aspects and many important components already available within the Girl Scouts council, but they are often not being used or assembled in a functional and cohesive manner for the benefit of leaders, parents, and girls. Our wellness promotion training has helped to change that situation, with a strong focus on wellness, and connecting wellness practices to the culture of Girl Scouts. Simultaneously, our research model was originally too top-down, and had to be adapted to the unique needs and interests of the leaders, service units, and wider council. This adaptation, growth, and development has been beneficial for both Girl Scouts and our research team.

Many service units within the counties or towns of the council have seemingly been starved for attention by the Council, and starved for the type of training K-State is capable of providing. We have observed disparities by rurality and distance from Girl Scouts offices, even for their own troop leader introductory training. Many of the areas we served showed great appreciation and gratitude for the wellness training that was provided to them. There appears to be many unmet needs within the council particularly outside of the urban areas of Kansas City, Topeka, and Manhattan.

Girl Scouts has been striving to stay relevant and fiscally healthy in an increasingly complex world of youth and their parents. One of the areas where the Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri council wants to focus is in providing quality outdoor experiences. Given their renewed focus on camps within the council, the council is interested in meeting with us and making use of our expertise and resources. We hope that this will lead to continued collaborations in the physical activity area of wellness.

One positive unanticipated outcome was that two of our own student assistants, who were working on the project, took the initiative to create a model Girl Scouts troop at the PAN-CRC. Having gone through the troop leader introductory training themselves, these women applied the wellness promotion guidelines training that they had been delivering to other troops to a newly developed troop on campus for girls in the Manhattan area. This troop provided us a better understanding of how meetings work, how kids may respond, and allowed us to test wellness activities in house prior to sharing. Having and managing our own troop and troop leaders gave us further credibility among the council’s troop leaders being trained. This PAN-CRC troop then served as model for our online videos that are part of our third phase to scale-up the wellness training. Other troop leaders report that they have benefited tremendously from our leader training videos, and the video platform has allowed us to expand our reach within Kansas. We have continued to gather feedback from the council and leaders, and use this in a continuous quality improvement process for our leader training efforts.

Products:

Funded work across 3 phases of project (funded by)

  • Healthier Families in a SNAP! (Girl Scouts Kaw Valley Council)
  • Girl Scouts family connections for health promotion (The Sunflower Foundation)
  • Girl Scouts Wellness Policy to Practice (Kansas Health Foundation, Healthy Living)
  • Cancer Prevention Behaviors in Girl Scouts: A Feasibility Study (Johnson Cancer Center Individual Research Award)
  • Enhanced Health Promotion in Girl Scouts through Video-Based Leader Wellness Training (Harold and

Letha Reser Family and Community Innovation Award, College of Human Ecology)

Research outputs across 3 phases 

  • Rosenkranz RR & Dzewaltowski DA (2009). Promoting better family meals for girls attending summer programs. Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior, 41(1):65–67. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2008.02.003 

--Note: This article won the annual JNEB Best Great Educational Material Award, 2010.

  • Ornelas S & Rosenkranz RR (2009). Physical activity and inactivity in Girl Scouts Juniors troop meetings. Californian Journal of Health Promotion, 7(Special Issue, Obesity Prevention):75–86.
  • Rosenkranz RR, Behrens TK, & Dzewaltowski DA (2010). A group-randomized controlled trial for health promotion in Girl Scouts: Healthier Troops in a SNAP (Scouting Nutrition & Activity Program). BMC Public Health, 10:81. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-81
  • Guagliano JM & Rosenkranz RR (2012). Physical activity promotion and obesity prevention in Girl Scouts: SNAP+. Pediatrics International, 54(6):810–815.doi:10.1111/j.1442-200X.2012.03681.x. 
  • Cull BJ, Dzewaltowski DA, Guagliano JM, Rosenkranz SK, Knutson C, & Rosenkranz RR (in press). Wellness-Promoting Practices through Girl Scouts: A Pragmatic Superiority Randomized Controlled Trial with Additional Dissemination. American Journal of Health Promotion.
  • Cull BJ, Rosenkranz RR, & Rosenkranz SK. (in preparation) Impact of Online, Video-Based Wellness Training on Girl Scout Leaders’ Wellness Promotion Self-Efficacy, Intention, and Knowledge: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial (Health Educ Behav).
  • Additional scientific presentations at American College of Sports Medicine, International Society for Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Society for Behavioral Medicine, Kansas Public Health Association, Kansas Nutrition Conference, Kansas Health Foundation, KU Obesity Conference, University of British Columbia, City University of New York, Western Sydney University, University of Wollongong