Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, May 7, 2012

SHARP helps fund research into physical activity for women and girls

When a new sports research center for girls and women opened at U-M in 2011, Susan Woolford knew her work would be an ideal fit.


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A researcher whose interests focus on childhood obesity, she successfully applied for and received a grant from SHARP (Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center) to explore the reasons for limited exercise participation among African-American girls that puts them at high risk for chronic diseases.

“The study would not have been possible without SHARP funds,” says Woolford, an assistant professor in pediatrics and communicable diseases, whose study will track girls in Michigan, Georgia and California.

Funding research projects and furthering the conversation about key issues, such as the landmark legislation Title IX, are among SHARP’s efforts. The center has hosted a Title IX speaker series and is coordinating a three-day national conference beginning Wednesday.

The conference is presented as part of the Michigan Meetings, a series of annual interdisciplinary meetings on topics of broad interest to the public and the academic community.

The center focuses on many areas, such as healthy weight management, motivation and exercise adherence, youth sports participation, injuries and injury prevention, and body image and the effects of exercise/sport on the body.

SHARP is a partnership between the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the School of Kinesiology. The center is located in IRWG’s offices in Lane Hall.

Kathy Babiak, SHARP co-director and associate professor of sport management, says her efforts with the center have involved networking with experts worldwide and many U-M faculty. This includes distributing research grants to shed light on important issues relating to sports and physical activity for women and girls.

SHARP funds up to five 18-month proposals each year, with a maximum of $15,000 per award, she says.

Kathryn Heinze, assistant professor of kinesiology, was one of the first SHARP grant recipients. She and colleagues Justin Heinze, a post-doctoral research associate at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and Sarah Clark, a research assistant professor in pediatrics, are examining the factors influencing parents’ support for their children’s high school athletic participation, including how gender role beliefs affect differences in willingness to pay for girls’ versus boys’ sports.

“The funding from SHARP has led to interdisciplinary, cross-campus collaborations between the School of Kinesiology and General Pediatrics to look at gender and children’s sports,” Heinze says. ”Recognizing the physical, social and emotional benefits that come with participating in high school athletics, we hope this research will shed light on possible barriers to participation.”