Public Release: 

Well before their teens, girls roughly half as physically active as boys

BMJ Specialty Journals

Well before they reach their teens, girls are almost half as physically active as boys, when it comes to regular vigorous exercise, shows research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The difference in physical activity between the sexes when they reach their teens has become relatively well known over recent years, but now this research indicates that the divide begins much earlier.

A representative sample of 37 primary schools in Dublin was studied, to ensure a broad mix of different social and economic backgrounds. All the schools offered at least one physical education period a week. The parents of 786 children, aged between 7 and 9, completed a modified version of a validated questionnaire designed to measure levels of physical activity among adolescents.

Around one in 10 of the children had a condition such as asthma which might have made physical activity more difficult.

Just under four out of 10 children vigorously exercised for 20 minutes three or more times a week-the minimum amount recommended for good health. Boys outnumbered girls by almost two to one. And altogether, some 14 per cent of boys and almost one in four of the girls exercised less than the minimum recommended levels.

Irrespective of gender, over 40 per cent of the children failed to engage in even moderate levels of physical activity, such as walking and cycling. And over three quarters of the children spent at least two hours in front of a TV or computer screen every day, whatever their social and economic background. But children from more disadvantaged backgrounds expended significantly more physical energy than children from more privileged backgrounds.

The authors conclude that the results are of concern because inactivity in childhood can influence activity patterns as an adult, and that inactive children risk health problems in later life.

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