A study of more than 500 primary school children has examined reasons why boys are more active than girls and, according to researchers from the University of Canberra, school and family environments are key factors.
A team of researchers from the University’s Health Research Institute (UC-HRI) and Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE) found that girls were 19 per cent less active than boys, based on data gathered through the Lifestyle of our Kids (LOOK) study.
This study looked at physical activity levels of 550 students from 29 primary schools in outer suburban areas of Canberra.
Centre for Research and Action in Public Health researcher Rohan Telford, said the influencing factors on children’s activity were complex, but clear differences between the sexes stand out.
“Our findings suggest that school is a stronger influence on boys activity levels compared to girls,” he said. “We also found that by age 12 boys received more support from their parents to be active”.
Mr Telford said girls even at eight-years-old were noticeably less physically fit and less active in comparison with boys.
“Our research found that on average, girls take almost 2,000 fewer steps a day than boys, and eight-year-old girls had 18% lower cardio-respiratory fitness than boys of the same age.
“The data also shows that eye-hand coordination among girls was 44% lower and there was a nine per cent lower perception of competence in physical education.”
The study gathered information on three influences which impact on children’s physical activity levels: individual factors, like fitness and body composition; family factors such as parental support including helping get to sport commitments; and environmental factors, including which school kids attend extracurricular sport.
The factors measured in this study are potentially modifiable and the authors suggest the gap in activity between boys and girls could be reduced by providing more opportunities for girls to participate in physical activities.
The research concludes that increasing physical activity for both boys and girls requires a multi-pronged approach through family, school, and extracurricular activities and particular attention should be paid to equitable levels of engagement and encouragement.
The research was co-authored by UCRISE’s Professor Dick Telford, and UC-HRI’s Professor Tom Cochrane and Professor Rachel Davey and colleagues at the ANU.
The study has been published in the peer-reviewed Open Access journal PLOS ONE.
(Source: University of Canberra, PLOS ONE)