1st comprehensive survey of Ind. girls released

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A new report billed as the first comprehensive assessment of the well-being of Indiana’s girls spotlights the tough years Hoosier girls face starting in middle school, when many of them are troubled by depression, falling grades and concerns about their weight.

The report released Thursday by St. Mary’s College, a Roman Catholic women’s college in South Bend, contains findings on the health, mental health, well-being and educational progress of Indiana girls ages 10 to 19.

One of the most disturbing findings is that 14.5 percent of Indiana high school girls reported in 2011 that they had been raped at some point in their lives. Those figures, from data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rank Indiana second among the 46 states that sent data to the federal agency.

The report’s findings suggest that Indiana’s girls generally have a harder time than boys during the often turbulent years as they move from middle school to high school, said Kristin Jehring Kuter, an assistant professor of mathematics at St. Mary’s College who led the study.

Indiana’s girls had rates of inactivity and depression higher than the national average for girls. Twenty percent of Indiana’s high school girls said in 2011 they did not get even an hour’s worth of physical activity on any day in a given week, compared with 12 percent of boys.

The report shows that in 2011, 18.5 percent of Indiana girls in high school were overweight, and 11.5 percent of them were obese — both rates higher than the national average for girls and higher than their male Indiana classmates.

The same CDC data also show that a higher percentage of high school girls than boys saw themselves as overweight or obese, when in fact many of them were neither. The study said that suggests girls struggle with their body image more than boys and are at higher risk of developing unhealthy dieting habits.

A growing number of Indiana girls also face growing feelings of sadness and hopelessness as they enter middle school, with those feelings peaking in the ninth grade, when about a third of them reported in 2012 such feelings of despair. About a fifth of Indiana’s eighth-grade girls reported having suicidal thoughts.

Kuter said those findings and others showing that girls’ performance in math and science courses drop significantly compared with boys as they move from middle school to high school point to need for more research on what factors are behind those trends.

“My thought is that it could have something to do with that change from middle school to high school that’s contributing to depression and other mental health issues. It’s got to have some kind of influence on their academics as well,” she said.

Kuter said St. Mary’s College would prepare a follow-up study in three years to explore in greater details many of the initial report’s findings.

Kristin Garvey, executive director of the Indiana Commission for Women, said the report’s findings, particularly those on depression and suicidal thoughts, could help practitioners who work with girls pinpoint when those youngsters need intervention.

She said the new report is the most wide-ranging look she’s seen on Indiana’s girls and their adolescent years.

“The most significant piece of this report is that it’s a comprehensive look — a snapshot of the girls in Indiana,” Garvey said.

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Online:

The Status of Girls in Indiana, http://bit.ly/1btNlNg

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