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Girls Participating in Sports in Record Numbers

But exercise outside organized teams has drops as adolescence approaches, study finds

MONDAY, April 14 (HealthDay News) -- A record number of American girls are participating in sports, but their physical activity levels outside of organized sports are decreasing, especially as they go from childhood to adolescence, a new study concludes.

The authors, from the University of Minnesota Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, reviewed the most recent research conducted on a number of aspects of girls and sport/physical activity including: physical, psychological, social and cultural benefits; barriers that prevent girls from reaching their full potential; and environments that help girls learn how to develop and do well both on and off the playing field.

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

The report, released Monday by the university, noted that girls derive a number of benefits of regular physical activity:

  • Improved health and lower risk of obesity and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
  • Positive development, including social, psychological and motor skill benefits.
  • Athletic girls do better academically and have lower dropout rates than non-athletic girls.

However, the report found that girls face many barriers, stereotypes and gender inequities when it comes to sports and physical activity.

"Poverty 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. So, 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," LaVoi said.

Among the other problems:

  • Girls' participation rates in all types of physical activities consistently lag behind those of boys, and girl's dropout rates are higher.
  • Girls' athletic experiences are shaped by the quality and expertise of adults who organize and supervise sports. However, many of those adults have minimal, if any, formal training.
  • Outdated stereotypes of femininity and masculinity continue to affect girls' participation in physical activity.

"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. Physical activity is not an 'add-on' but rather is a core value and principle for healthy and effective living," Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and exercise.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Minnesota, news release, April 14, 2008

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