Girls are less physically active than boys. That’s been established. Some experts theorize that girls are less active by nature; however, a new study from Australia suggests it may have more to do with how they’re nurtured.
The goal of this study, published in PLOS ONE (2016; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150041), was to explore differences in physical activity among boys and girls at ages 8 and 12 and to see whether home- or school-based influences played a role in those differences. Study participants were 276 boys and 279 girls from 29 schools. The researchers analyzed the children’s cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, hand-eye coordination and self-perceived physical competence during physical education classes.
Parents completed questionnaires addressing their child’s education level and sport participation as well as their own support of the child’s physical activity pursuits. Also noted were extracurricular sport participation and which school each child attended.
Confirming results from previous studies, the researchers determined that girls were 19% less active than boys and took an average of 1,940 fewer steps per day.
“Girls compared to boys had less favorable individual attributes associated with [physical activity] at age 8 years, including 18% lower cardiorespiratory fitness, 44% lower eye-hand coordination, higher percent body fat (28% vs. 23%) and 9% lower perceived competence in physical education,” the authors reported.
While the study could not conclude causation, it did find that home and school support of physical activity was weaker for girls than for boys, causing the authors to raise a very important question: “As a society, do we accept the premise that young girls are less physically active than boys as ‘normal,’ or is it because we are failing to provide girls with the same level of opportunity and support to be equally active? Our data cannot determine the answer with precision but are suggestive of the latter.”
Regardless of which is true, the researchers emphasized a need for parents and schools to develop better strategies for improving girls’ physical activity levels and participation.
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