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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Teenage pregnancy, eating disorders and poor self-esteem are some of the major problems plaguing young women in Minnesota. The struggles can sometimes start as early as elementary school.
Now, a new program launching in the Twin Cities this week helps young girls prevent that fate by simply lacing up their tennis shoes and heading outside.
It’s called the Girls on the Run program, and practice just started at Lake Harriet Upper Elementary School and Edgerton School in Maplewood.
“We are learning it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside. All that matters is what you are like inside,” said Frances Haase, a fifth grader.
The girls participating are in third through fifth grade, at the end of the program in mid-May, they’ll conclude with a 5K run. The idea is that this puts them on the right track for their teenage years and beyond.
“The comments you already hear from third to fifth grade girls, body image, what they should look like, this will instill confidence as they move forward,” said Girls on the Run Twin Cities Founder Mary Uran.
“It’s to grow up strong and healthy and be the individuals they are meant to be,” said Kori Fitschen, co-founder of Girls on the Run Twin Cities.
Girls on the Run started in North Carolina in 1996. The founder Molly Barker is an Ironman Triathelete who started running as a teenager when she struggled with her self-image. The program has now helped 300,000 girls to date with 191 councils in the US and Canada.
The girls from both schools will run a 5K together in May at the “Be the One” 5K near Lake Harriet.
“I wanted to run the 5K. They said you didn’t have to be good at running, and I was excited to learn now to run,” said Nicole Guiliani, a fourth grader.
The girls will meet and train twice a week until May — and it’s not just running. They have curriculum and classes focus on lifestyle, peer pressure, gossip and values.
The program aims to reverse local statistics shown by county health department surveys. Teen pregnancy rates in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties are the highest in the state (32.4 births per 1,000 teenage females) and 64 percent of ninth grade girls in Hennepin County report trying to lose weight. Additionally, 20 percent report fasting or skipping meals and 3 percent report inducing vomiting after meals.
“Our programs teach young girls the value of setting goals, teamwork, and the skills needed to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyle habits through running,” said Fitschen.
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