The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent nearly $500,000 to study how getting mothers to dance with their daughters can fight obesity.
The three-year study is focusing on African-American girls, who the authors say "suffer disproportionately from obesity." The aim of the research is to see whether "Afro-centric" dance can get girls to exercise.
The government has spent $11 million researching how dance can curb obesity rates, though the studies have yielded less than promising results.
"Reductions in physical activity are more prevalent in African-American girls and women; therefore effective physical activity interventions are needed," the grant for the most recent project said. "For a physical activity intervention to be effective among African-American girls the program must resonate with them and they must enjoy participating in it. One possible example of an enjoyable, culturally-appropriate intervention is Afro-centric dance."
The study hypothesizes that teenaged girls would be more likely to dance if their mothers are dancing with them.
"In addition, it has been speculated that a way to increase children's physical activity level is to increase parental physical activity level," the grant said. "Studies have shown that parental (maternal) health behaviors can influence children's health behaviors. Family remains a valued facet of the African-American culture, and therefore an important behavioral context for interventions to improve physical activity and other health outcomes."
The $430,608 study was awarded to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The university conducted 12-week programs for African-American daughters and mothers to participate in Afro-centric dance.
"If this intervention presents a viable option for increasing physical activity for African-American girls and their mothers, we will have identified a route for reducing obesity and [diabetes] in these groups," the grant said.
"We hypothesize that by choosing a culturally-appropriate and fun form of physical activity, and by engaging mothers, we will see higher levels of sustained physical activity," it added.
This hypothesis is not unique. The government has spent $11,158,004 on similar projects examining dancing as an obesity prevention method for minority groups since 1999.
Dr. Tom Robinson, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, has led two multi-million dollar studies focused on African-American and Latina girls and the "innovative" way to get them to lose weight by dancing.
For two years the project followed over 200 low-income African-American 8- to 10-year-old girls and their families who participated in after-school hip-hop, African, and step dance classes. Robinson conducted "in-home surveys" of the families, and measured their "height, weight, skinfold thicknesses, [and] waist and hip circumferences."
The results of the study were not promising with regard to obesity.
"A culturally tailored after-school dance and screen time reduction intervention for low-income, preadolescent African American girls did not significantly reduce BMI gain compared with health education but did produce potentially clinically important reductions in lipid levels, hyperinsulinemia, and depressive symptoms," results posted in the National Library of Medicine read.
Robinson was awarded a second study focusing on Latina girls, beginning in 2006.
This project, which cost $3,924,617 through 2010, also involved a "culturally-tailored" after-school dance program for low-income girls.
The study found that Latina girls were more likely to participate if they had higher self-esteem and confidence, and were less likely to join in if they experienced child bullying.
"Family-centered, school-based, community obesity prevention programs that focus on tangible short-term gains for girls may generate greater participation rates, enhance social capital, and promote community empowerment," the results concluded. "These factors can be emphasized in future obesity prevention program design and implementation."
The results for the latest study thus far have revealed that mothers like to dance and do household chores to achieve physical activity, while their children prefer dancing, walking, and riding bikes.