Barriers—and Paths—to Fitness in Teenage Girls

Thu, 27 Oct. 2011 - 3:23 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Establishing a pattern of physical activity early in life is one way to combat the increased likelihood of inactivity later. One recent study, from the University of South Carolina at Columbia, found that, while vigorous physical activity declined significantly for girls between the eighth and 12th grade, the trend toward inactivity in late high school was still strongly countered in girls who had been active in middle school. In the study, of nearly 400 girls ages 13 and 14 at baseline and 58.5% African American, vigorous physical activity declined overall from 45.4% in eighth grade to 34.1% by senior year of high school. The researchers surveyed 31 middle schools and 24 high schools in South Carolina and reported declines in participation in running, bicycling, basketball, soccer, softball, and dance. But at the same time the probability of participating in several forms of vigorous exercise in 12th grade was strongly associated with participation in those activities in eighth grade.

Girls cease to continue physical activity sooner than boys. Adolescent girls are at higher risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and other problems linked to obesity and overweight than are boys of the same age group. “Having coached or assisted with girls soccer and swimming, I have witnessed the drop off in participation by girls,” says David Watt, executive director of the American Running Association and its professional arm, AMAA. “A lot of the decreased participation comes from the competitiveness of high school varsity sports. These girls stop doing club sports in the community because the friends they swam, played soccer, or played basketball with are now on high school teams. The non-varsity athletes have no interest in continuing activity if there friends are not around.” 

Open events like the cross-country races the ARA organizes offer outlets apart from varisty sports, but Dave Watt notes that “we will still miss many girls.” All the more reason to start girls, as well as boys, early and nurture an ongoing appreciation for vigorous activity, whether it be competitive, team-oriented, solitary, or recreational.

(J. Phys. Activity & Health, 2007, Vol. 4, No. 1, http://www.humankinetics.com/JPAH/viewarticle.cfm?jid=66322ds36864KE2b6347XK346326ZxaY646&aid=6616&site=66322ds36864KE2b6347XK346326ZxaY646)

(RUNNING & FITNEWS® April / May 2007 • Volume 25, Number 3)


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