March 24, 2016
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Physical activity encouraged less by family, school in girls than boys

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Recent research suggested that family support and school influences toward physical activity may be stronger in boys than girls, resulting in less physical activity participation among girls.

“To address a gap in the literature in understanding why girls are less physically active than boys we employed a multilevel, cross-sectional and longitudinal approach at the individual, family and environmental levels of the socioecological framework,” Rohan M. Telford, PhD, of the Centre for Research and Action in Public Health at the University of Canberra, Australia, and colleagues wrote in PLoS One “Our findings suggest that influences on [physical activity (PA)] at the school and family levels and through extracurricular sport participation are weaker in girls than boys.”

Rohan Telford

Rohan M. Telford

As part of the ongoing Lifestyle of our Kids (LOOK) study, the researchers gathered data from 555 children, aged 8 to 12 years, from 29 schools in Australia. PA was measured via pedometers for 7 days, while other individual level correlates were measured using fitness tests, coordination tests, DEXA scans and questionnaires. Parent questionnaires also were weighed to determine parental support, while extracurricular sports participation was used to gauge environmental factors.

By examining pedometer results, data showed that girls were 19% less physically active than boys (9,420 daily steps vs. 11,360 daily steps; P < .001). These results among girls were associated with lower school influence, family support and lower participation in extracurricular sports.

The researchers also found that girls demonstrated lower scores on individual PA-related attribute tests at age 8 years. Girls had 18% lower cardiorespiratory fitness scores, 44% lower hand-eye coordination scores, 9% lower perceived PA competence scores and greater percentage of body fat (P < .001 for each).

“These factors are potentially modifiable suggesting the gap in PA between boys and girls can be reduced,” Telford and colleagues wrote. “Strategies aiming to increase PA should be multicomponent and take into consideration that pathways to increasing PA are likely to differ among boys and girls.” – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.