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girls jumping

Girls need to get out there and move, outside of organized sports, for all sorts of great reasons, including having fun.

Go, girl!

U study shows that as girls move from childhood to adolescence, their physical activity drops

April 14, 2008

Although we know that when girls engage in regular physical activity they can improve their health and reduce the risk of chronic disease, develop wider social skills, and perform better academically, they do less and less of it as they move from childhood to adolescence.

The University of Minnesota's Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport today (April 14) released a report, "Developing Physically Active Girls: An Evidence-based Multidisciplinary Approach," which summarizes the most recent research on the benefits of and barriers to girls' physical activity and what can be done to change the situation. The report is a 10-year update on a study President Clinton commissioned in 1997.

The four authors of the study will discuss their work at the Borghild-Strand Distinguished Lecture, 7-9 p.m. April 22, in the Cowles Auditorium of the Hubert Humphrey Center on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. It is free and open to the public.

Outdated, stereotypical standards of femininity and masculinity continue to influence the extent to which girls participate in or shun physical activity.

"The research within the report confirms that many good things are happening when it comes to girls and physical activity," says Nicole LaVoi, researcher and associate director of the Tucker Center and a report author. "[They] are participating in organized sports more than ever and at all levels--from organized youth sports, to interscholastic sports and up through Olympic competition.

Explore the issue of girls and physical activity more deeply with a video on the topic.

"[But] while some girls are physically active, many girls fail to meet minimal standards of physical activity needed to accrue developmental and health benefits, or worse, they are completely sedentary. There remains a great deal of work left to be done."

Despite the breadth of knowledge specific to girls' physical activity and its positive outcomes, many barriers, stereotypes, and gender inequities that limit girls are firmly in place, according to the report. "Poverty, [for example], substantially limits many girls' access to and participation in physical activity and sport, especially for girls of color who are overrepresented in lower socioeconomic groups," says LaVoi.

The report also found:

"The United States as a whole--from parents and coaches to school administrators and community leaders to policy makers--needs to make a commitment to eliminating the barriers girls in this nation face when it comes to engaging in sports and physical activity," says Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center. "Physical activity is not an 'add-on,' but rather is a core value and principle for healthy and effective living."

The Tucker Center report is designed to provide a road map for the nation to ensure that every girl has ample opportunity to fully engage in sport and physical activity. "Often, research done by sports scholars sits on the shelves and practitioners--such as coaches, parks and recreation directors, and physical education teachers--view the research as having no practical application," says University of Minnesota associate professor Diane Wiese-Bjornstal, another author of the report. "This report aims at bridging the gap between theory and practice. It details the best sports and activity programs for girls, suggests proven strategies [to encourage participation], and shows how to implement those strategies and programs."