How "Normal" are You?
by Judy Schoenberg, Ed.M
Girls speak up about health.
To collect the information for The New Normal?, the Girl Scouts Research Institute surveyed more than 2,000 girls between the ages of 8 and 17 online. The girls came from different races, ethnicities, and places. Their families also made different amounts of money. We also did focus group research, which means we talked with groups of girls to get more in-depth information.
When it comes to your health, what do you think is normal? In 2006, we at the Girl Scouts Research Institute conducted a national study called The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living. We wanted to bring girls' voices to the national conversation about obesity and health. So we asked girls how they define and make decisions about health. We learned that you think being healthy is more than just eating right and exercising—it's also feeling good and having support from friends and family. Below are the four main things we found out from the study—does any of it sound familiar?
Wanting to be "Normal Healthy"
Do you think being normal and being healthy are the same thing? Many girls say being healthy means looking "normal" and feeling accepted. Sixty-five percent of girls say they are "healthy enough." One girl says, "I think I'm healthy. I'm [average weight] and I eat OK . . . there's nothing wrong with me."
But some girls think there's something wrong with them, even when they're healthy. Most girls have a realistic idea about their weight. Unfortunately, about one in three girls has a distorted idea about her weight, such as thinking she weighs too much when her weight actually is healthy.
Is a "normal" girl a healthy girl? Not necessarily. If something is normal, it just means a lot of people do it. It's pretty normal to drink a can of soda every day, but that doesn't mean it's healthy!
Emotional Health Counts!
If your doctor says your heart rate and lungs are fine, but you know you feel sad all the time, are you healthy? Girls in the study say that emotional health—how you feel and how you handle stress—is as important as your body's health. That's because most girls worry more about their weight, friends, and grades than most boys do. And our feelings and our bodies work together. Have you ever had a stomachache before a test or breathed faster when you heard exciting news? Your body was just responding to your emotions. It works the other way, too. When you eat well and exercise, your body produces higher levels of endorphins—chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. That might be why the physically-active girls in our study have higher self-esteem. One girl says, "[When you’re active] you feel better, you feel healthy. You feel like you can smile more. Personally, if I had a bad day, I like to go run."
What I Know Isn’t Always What I Do
You probably know that vegetables are more healthful than candy bars. Does that mean you're going to choose vegetables every time you're hungry? Most girls know about healthful choices, but it's "normal" to make less healthful choices. More than 60% of girls skip breakfast at least once a week, even though breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Girls also spend a lot of time talking on the phone, using the computer, and watching television, which means they don't move their bodies much. Being healthy doesn't mean you have to give up these activities, but try to fit more exercise into your life, too. You can jump rope or stretch while you watch TV. If you have a cordless phone, keep moving while you chat.
Mother Knows Best?
Who is your role model? If you answered "Mom," your answer matches most girls' in the survey. A lot of girls say Mom's opinion about her body and health affect their own opinions about their bodies. And if Mom doesn't like her own weight, girls are less likely to be satisfied with their weight, too, even if it's healthy. But almost 90% of girls say their moms make positive comments about the way their daughters look. Yay, Moms! Getting encouragement is an important part of staying and feeling healthy. If you don't live with your mom or don't get encouragement from her, make sure you spend time with adults who DO make you feel good about yourself, whether that's your dad, teachers, other family members, or older friends.
© 2007 New Moon® Publishing, New Moon®: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams, Duluth MN.
Content last reviewed May 15, 2008
Page last updated October 31, 2013