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GirlStars Program


Host Institution
Boston University (previous center): Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center

Health Topics
Healthy youth | Physical activity

Center researchers, community committee members, and other project partners collaborated to develop GirlStars, an intervention to provide physical activity and health education to adolescent girls in two public housing developments in Boston’s inner city.

Project activities were held at two Boston Housing Authority developments, where more than 2,800 residents lived. At both sites, project coordinators and program assistants held two weekly two-hour activity sessions, one for health education and the other for physical activity. Researchers wanted to determine the program’s short-term results (changes in participants’ physical activity levels, weight, and health-risk behaviors such as smoking and substance use) as well as determine how long the benefits lasted among participants.

The PRC researchers wanted to recruit 80 resident girls (aged 9 to 13) from the housing developments to participate in the intervention and comparison groups. During the three years the intervention was conducted, however, 60 girls enrolled. Some joined at the start of the study and continued to the end (July 2002 to October 2005). Others attended periodically, moved away, dropped out, or became older than 13 years. Because of the challenges in recruiting and keeping participants, the researchers offered the intervention to all participants (eliminating the comparison groups) then stopped the study after three years. Feedback from the girls who did participate suggests they increased physical activity and improved knowledge of nutrition and healthy eating.

The researchers published information about this study and reported the many challenges they faced in recruiting participants and maintaining the project. Issues included safety of participants, schedule conflicts, vandalism, participants’ conduct, reluctance to participate in physical activity, lack of community support, and staffing difficulties. The researchers offered recommendations on how to deal with these challenges through community support, staffing, site selection, and other strategies that can aid recruitment and retention.

Douyon M, Chavez M, Bunte D, Horsburgh CR, Strunin L. The GirlStars program: challenges to recruitment and retention in a physical activity and health education program for adolescent girls living in public housing. Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy 2010; 7(2)A42.
Research Setting
Urban area
Race or Ethnicity
Black or African American | Hispanic or Latino
Women or girls
Age Group
Adolescents (12-17 years)
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Principal Investigator
Lee Strunin

Project Identifier
GirlStars Program - Core Project (2004-2009)

Funding Source
PRC Program

Project Status
Not active