NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Girls are participating in organized sports in record numbers — from youth sports, to interscholastic sports and even extreme sports like skateboarding, up through Olympic competition — according to a new report from the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports.
“That’s good news,” Nicole LaVoi, associate director of the Tucker Center and a report co-author, told Reuters Health. “The troubling news, however, is that outside of organized sports girls are less physically active than ever before and they are less physically active than boys.” Girls are also more likely than boys to dropout of sports.
There is abundant evidence that girls’ reap huge physical and psychological benefits from engaging in regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and that inactivity is detrimental to their overall health and well being, LaVoi and colleagues note in their report, available online at www.tuckercenter.org.
Many girls fail to meet minimal standards of physical activity “needed to accrue developmental and health benefits, or worse, they are completely sedentary,” LaVoi said.
Research, LaVoi and colleagues point out, has shown that cardiorespiratory fitness decreases linearly for older and overweight girls; nearly one third of girls are ranked “low” in cardiorespiratory fitness. Adolescent girls with low aerobic fitness levels are twice as likely to be overweight or obese and have higher cholesterol as more fit girls.
They also note that strength and power increase linearly in girls from pre- to post-puberty, but slow or decline in sedentary girls throughout their teen years. However, “strength and power may continue to increase throughout adolescence in girls who participate in activities that incorporate some form of resistance/power exercise (e.g., jumping or sprinting),” the report states.
It’s also concerning, LaVoi said, that many girls fail to achieve nutritional and activity standards that facilitate bone health and protect them from developing osteoporosis as adults.
“Another piece of troubling news,” LaVoi said, “is that girls continue to face a great deal more barriers to physical activity than do boys due to, for example, the construction of gender roles around what it means to be a girl; to be pretty and feminine, which is in opposition to what it means to be athletic and active.”
Other barriers include poverty; family values, with some parents valuing physical activity more for boys than girls; less active parental role models; girls feeling less physically competent than boys; and structural and funding inequalities in terms of girls and boys sports programs.
“Although we’ve made progress in the last 10 years, the barriers that limit girls’ participation are still firmly in place,” LaVoi said. “There is a great deal of work to be done” to break these barriers, she concludes.