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Nailah Adams Morancie headshot
Dr. Nailah Adams Morancie

The UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention has awarded to Dr. Nailah Adams Morancie, MD, MS, CAQSM, a planning grant of $5,000 to conduct a research project on how sports bra access and fit impacts physical activity among high school students in North Carolina. Dr. Adams is one of two recipients of the 2023 HPDP Planning grant program, which is designed to assist UNC faculty in carrying out pilot projects related to health promotion/disease prevention research. Dr. Adams and UNC medical student, Samantha Thomas, will partner on the research project. “My Movement – The Importance of Sports Bra Access and Fit on Physical Activity among High School Students in North Carolina” is a pivotal project in the emerging field of sports bra research.

Up to 70% of women experience exercise-induced breast discomfort during activities involving running and jumping. The introduction of sports bras was intended to provide better support during physical activity, but despite their availability and variety, 64% of women still experience breast pain during exercise. While sports bras can help control breast motion during activity, most women wear the wrong size, which can cause head, neck, and back pain, and may even lead to tissue deformation.

Properly fitting and supportive bras can alleviate many of the associated symptoms, but barriers, such as cost and a low rate in professional bra fitting services accessibility, prevent many students from accessing the support they need. “Having developed breasts at an early age, I was very self-conscious. I received a lot of negative attention that a young girl should not have to endure,” Thomas  shares.  “You’re a kid, you just want to play, not worry about your bra straps showing at recess or even worse, someone snapping your straps from behind! If I had a properly fitting, affordable sports bra back then, I probably would’ve been interested in playing sports.” Additionally, physical inactivity and obesity are major issues among adolescents, especially in North Carolina. Adolescents are likely to quit physical activity due to changes in breast size and movement that can cause embarrassment and pain. However, there is no research studying how high school students feel about sports bras, and what resources or education may be needed to support them in North Carolina.

Samantha Thomas headshot
Samantha Thomas

The My Movement study aims to better understand attitudes on sports bras and physical activity among high school students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district. Dr. Adams and Ms. Thomas plan to conduct four focus groups with ten high school students each. These discussions will help them understand how access to properly fitting sports bras affects students’ participation in physical activity and sports. They also aim to identify specific sports bra attributes that make them more likely to be worn by the teenagers.

In addition to gathering insights, the study aims to establish a Peer Educator training program, which will educate students about breast and bra-related topics. “Teenagers tend to believe and respond better to kids their age than adults, especially with topics like breast development that may make some of them feel shy or awkward when it is just a natural process,” Dr. Adams explains. “Peer educator programs can be effective teaching tools to help with information dissemination and, ultimately, behavior change.” By providing this education, the researchers hope to increase awareness and knowledge about sports bras among students in the school district. Furthermore, the researchers plan to secure funding from private foundations to expand the program and evaluate the impact of providing sports bras to high school students at no cost. “They also aim to expand the program to middle schoolers and other school districts.

Dr. Nailah Adams Morancie, MD, MS, CAQSM is a Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician in the UNC Department of Family Medicine. She was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. While attending an all-girls high school and being surrounding by inspiring women, she began to envision a life of service. Dr. Adams completed her Bachelor of Science at Howard University, Master of Science in Nutrition at Columbia University, medical training at Duke University, Family Medicine residency at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital, and a Sports Medicine fellowship at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill where she now serves as the Program Director. Today, Dr. Adams is passionate about research and health promotion through nutrition and physical activity among adolescent and young adult athletes.

Samantha Thomas is a first-year medical student at UNC School of Medicine. She completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature at Binghamton University and worked in advertising for eight years, before returning to school and enrolling in a pre-med post baccalaureate program at UNC Greensboro, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology. From personal experience and the experiences of patients struggling with breast discomfort while exercising, and not finding adequate resources to help her, Samantha knew that there was a gap in research and medicine that could help women like her.

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