Several years ago, Terri Lipman, the Miriam Stirl Endowed Term Professor of Nutrition in the Penn School of Nursing, conducted a survey of West Philadelphia parents to find out why their children were not more active.
Parents responded that there was no safe place for their children to play, after school programs had been cut and school gym class did not provide sufficient physical activity.
“For all of those reasons, there are a lot of barriers in the West Philadelphia community to increase activity,” says Lipman, also a professor of nursing of children.
To get West Philly youth on the move, Lipman, with funding from the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, devised “Dance for Health,” a community program that increases physical activity among schoolchildren. Lipman says she chose dance as a form of activity because it is free, enjoyable, easily assessable and can be done at home.
Last year, Lipman partnered with Sayre High School at 58th and Walnut streets and the adjoining Sayre Health Center to work with elementary schoolchildren at the nearby Sayre Recreation Center. For one month, the Sayre High School Dance Team led 40 elementary schoolchildren through one hour of dancing each week. Lipman and her research team of nurse practitioners and high school students discovered that many of the children were not physically fit. However, using pedometers, the team demonstrated that children used twice as many steps while dancing compared to days with usual activity. Many of the children, Lipman says, were surprised that dancing is an example of exercise.
Because increased physical activity lowers obesity and is good for cardiovascular health, Lipman says she hopes the children will continue to dance, not only at the recreation center, but also at home.
With funding from the Center for Public Health Initiatives, Lipman is partnering with the Sayre Health Center to host family dance nights. Starting next week, parents will be invited to a dance party, with a separate dance class for children.
“Our hope is that if we are able to motivate the whole family to dance, we'll be much more successful incorporating dance as a frequent method of activity,” she says.
Originally published on October 27, 2011