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Team Sports, Group Activities Can Help Young Girls Develop Self-Esteem, Positive Body Image

DALLAS – Participating in team sports is one of the best ways young girls can build self-esteem, a major factor in preventing eating disorders, say experts at the Eating Disorders Program at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas.

The underlying causes of eating disorders, which affect millions of girls in the United States, are complex, but girls with strong self-esteem tend to be less fixated on their appearance and tend to be less susceptible to the disease.

“I tell all parents, especially fathers, that the best thing they can do for their daughters is to encourage them to participate in team sports and then provide positive reinforcement whether or not their team wins,” said Dr. James Harris, clinical psychologist at the Eating Disorders Program at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. “With my own two daughters, I encourage them to play soccer and other sports, and I make it a point to go to their games and show support.”

Group activities, including team sports, Girl Scouts and family activities, are a way for all children to learn about sharing, conflict resolution, relationships and other social dynamics that area important as they get older. In addition to building self-esteem, group activities can help children learn to better communicate and problem solve with their peers, important skills that aid healthy psychological development through adolescence.

“The message our society sends to girls is that their real value is how they look, not who they are,” said Urszula Kelley, M.D., medical director of the Eating Disorders Program at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. “But they need to know that they have an important role in their family and in the larger community. They need to know that they're relied on as part of team. That helps foster a sense of self-worth. Activities like Girl Scouts show young girls that they have a place in the larger group and that they have a value beyond their physical appearance.”

While experts encourage parents to get their kids involved in group activities, Dr. Kelley warns that pushing kids to excel in sports or forcing them to participate can be counterproductive.

“The point isn't to groom a world-class athlete or criticize a child when they don't perform well. That's counterproductive and takes away from the potential benefits of team sports,” she said. “The benefits of sports are that they teach team work and give children a sense of belonging. Even if they're not the best player on the team, a child should be encouraged to try their best, and parents should praise their daughter for giving it her best effort.”

Other group settings are just as important. Family dinners are one of the most basic and most important daily rituals in a child's life.

“We want children to feel like they're not alone,” Dr. Harris said, “and that when problems come up they have people around that they can count on.”

About the Eating Disorders Program at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas
The PHD Eating Disorders Program is a multidisciplinary program that uses a variety of specialists to treat patients with eating disorders. Cardiologists monitor patients' heart health during and after their hospital stay. Radiologists perform bone density scans to confirm the eating disorder has not compromised the patient's bone strength. Gastroenterologists are consulted to confirm the patient's sickness has not caused other digestive problems. Services include: individual and group counseling; psychological evaluation and intervention; therapeutic meals; medical supervision; relapse prevention; living skills education; nutritional counseling; aftercare support and a host of other tools. For more information about the Eating Disorders Program at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, call 214-345-7355.

About Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas
Established in 1966, PHD is the flagship hospital of Presbyterian Healthcare System, a member of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system. PHD is a recognized clinical program leader, providing technologically advanced care to patients. The 866-bed facility has approximately 4,000 employees and an active medical staff of more than 1,000 physicians. For more information about PHD, visit

About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is one of the largest faith-based, nonprofit health care delivery systems in the United States and the largest in North Texas in terms of patients served. THR controls 13 affiliated hospitals and a medical research organization, and is a corporate member or partner in seven additional hospitals and surgery centers. THR’s family of hospitals includes Harris Methodist Hospitals, Arlington Memorial Hospital and Presbyterian Healthcare System.  For more information about Texas Health Resources, visit

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