CAMDEN — As the mother of a 15-year-old girl, Wanda Williams is very familiar with the bond between moms and their teenage daughters.“Daughters want to emulate their mothers’ style and behavior, and mothers want what is best for their daughters,” says Williams, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden.
As the spotlight shines on moms everywhere this Mother’s Day, Williams says mothers and daughters can use their unique relationship to motivate each other to make healthier lifestyle choices.
“They can encourage each other to be healthier, especially as young girls get older,” the Rutgers University–Camden scholar says. She notes that while teenage girls seek independence, they still look to their mothers for support, a key factor in finding motivation to eat healthier and exercise.
“They still want that connection with their mothers,” she says. “I want to foster that connection to help mothers and daughters talk about health issues with each other.”
A former nurse practitioner at the Durham County Health Department in North Carolina, Williams is the author of multiple published articles on physical activity among African American girls and women. She focuses on community-based research aimed at improving health outcomes for that population.
“When I performed one study in Durham, I asked women what motivated them,” she says. “For many young girls, it was that their grandmother had diabetes, or their mother had issues stemming from diabetes. So, they didn’t want to have those health problems, too. They wanted to do things to prevent it. At the same time, the mothers wanted their daughters to be healthier than them.”
Williams says dieting and exercising with a partner can motivate a person to set goals and achieve them, whereas doing it alone can result at failed attempts to lead a healthier lifestyle.
“It’s increasingly important to encourage each other to participate in more preventative activities, and they have to find a good place to start. If they like to dance, they should join a dance class.”Williams says it is recommended that children up to age 18 participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but a large percentage of African American females are failing to meet the objective.
As a nurse practitioner, Williams often observed girls in their late teens or early twenties who already had health problems like elevated blood pressure and or early signs of diabetes.
“My primary goal is to look at some of the health disparities among urban, African American females and provide education and solutions for issues like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, while addressing myths surrounding body image,” Williams says.
She hopes to begin the research soon in Camden.
“I want to be able to teach mothers in Camden how to talk to their daughters about various health issues,” Williams says. “Hopefully, we can at least get the dialogue started about healthy eating, exercise, and sexual health. I want the daughters to know that they can talk to their mothers about any issue that can affect their health, while communicating to mothers that you can have dialogue beyond, ‘do it because I told you to do it.’”
A resident of Pemberton Township, Williams earned her bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Central University and her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.