How can we improve the health of young women?
October 15, 2017
Camille McGirt, MPH
Gillings School alumna (health behavior, 2017)
Co-founder, Healthy Girls Save the World (healthygirlssavetheworld.org)
Management consultant, Booz Allen Hamilton
My answer is simple – change the culture!
Let’s face it – young women in 2017 are influenced by many messages that may not have positive effects on body image, self-esteem, confidence and overall well-being. According to the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of teens have access to a smartphone, meaning that the pressure to achieve a perfect body and perfect social life literally is always at the fingertips of many young women in the U.S. We must call for a culture shift in the way women view and treat their bodies. Young women must have safe spaces where they can be free to express themselves and have positive reinforcement for believing that they are beautiful and valued.
A young woman should be encouraged to be free in her spirit, body and mind – rather than being confined by society’s standards and stereotypes. Girls must be made aware that the oversexualized images they see in magazines and on television are not real and are not worthy of emulation.
To be a part of the solution for these issues, my sister Rachel McGirt and I founded Healthy Girls Save the World Inc. (HGSW) in August 2011. HGSW is a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing integrated and accessible programs that assist young, underserved girls in achieving their health goals through self-efficacy and SMART goal achievement. (SMART, which stands for “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely,” is an evidence-based method of goal setting central to HGSW’s core.)
We believe in Healthy Girls Save the World because we believe that every girl deserves a positive space in her community where she can learn to be healthy, inside and out.
Healthy Girls uses an innovative business model that connects middle-school girls to colleges, mentors and holistic health programming. We provide opportunities for middle-school girls to participate in high-quality after-school programs and summer camps on college campuses that foster the development of healthy habits related to proper nutrition, physical activity and overall healthy lifestyles.
Informed by evidence-based curricula, our programming is a uniquely powerful combination of trained female student counselors, female varsity athletes, expert speakers and enriching activities led by community organizations.
To date, we have served 400 young women in N.C. and beyond.
Since starting the program, we have learned that too many girls feel the need to connect with other girls their age and have fun without judgment, bullying or acceptance/social issues. HGSW keeps the development of a safe and accepting environment at the heart of our program’s core.
More programs should aim to change the culture for girls and young women. Pre-adolescence and adolescence are difficult and confusing. Girls need safe spaces, mentors and role models. They need education about good nutrition, the value of physical activity and the importance of strong, positive relationships that support their mental health.
Our program inspires girls to be themselves – and to know that being oneself is more than “good enough.” It’s great!
Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit sph.unc.edu/cph.