Teen girls and the equal play gap

Health and fitness headlines this week focused on teen girls as sloths putting their heath at risk. See Lack of vigourous exercise leaves teen girls at risk,  for example.

Here’s a quote from the article above:

A study published in Pediatrics this fall analyzed the moderate-to-vigorous physical activity of teenagers and found that girls were far less likely to meet the recommended amount of exercise than their male counterparts. This started early in high school (10th grade) and remained consistent throughout the teenage years. This trend can persist further into life too, as women exercise less than men, according to a 2012 study published in Preventive Medicine.

One way to report on looks at it through the lens of stereotypes about teenagers, especially teenage girls. They care too much about their hair and they don’t like to sweat. And they don’t care enough about their health. Yeah, yeah.

But another lens we could use to view this news is that of equality.

In the book that Tracy and I have written that’s being published next fall–just in time for Christmas 2017!–I talk about the “play gap” between men and women.

Very few Canadian children move as much as they should but what’s interesting from a feminist perspective is the gap between boys and girls when it comes to physical activity. The “play gap” starts in early childhood and gets worse as people mature. I argue that the play gap matters as the benefits of  physical activity aren’t just related to health. Making time and allocating resources for women’s sports isn’t a trivial matter. There are also important implications for women’s agency and autonomy.

We tend to focus on childhood inactivity and not notice that it’s gendered.

This is from a Toronto Sun report on Canada’s children and fitness: “Canada’s children just got a D- in physical fitness for the third year in a row. Just 9% of Canada’s children between the ages of 9 and 15 meet the recommended guideline of one hour of activity per day. Experts are blaming the dismal showing on the so-called “protection paradox.” Parents try to keep children safe by not allowing them to move freely between home and school, or engage in active, outdoor play, but as a result our children are leading increasingly sedentary lives.”

The play gap exists even among very young children and gets worse in the teen girls. I’m not saying we have no reason to worry about teenage girls. We do.

Teenage girls are a pretty inactive group. In the United States physical activity among girls drops dramatically during the teen years, and many don’t do any by the time they reach 18 or 19, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. More than half of black girls and a third of white girls do no regular leisure physical activity at 16 and 17.

One study estimates that young women sit or lie down for 19 hours a day including long bouts of inactivity during school time.

See Teen Girls Choose Inactivity.

Probably we should look at the exercise options available to teenage girls. Probably we should also think about how best to support them through a life stage where there is a certain amount of discomfort about their changing bodies. We should think about safety when it comes to walking or riding bikes to school. We should think about the attitudes they face from teenage boys when it comes to working out and being active.

What do you think would help?

Was there an age at which you started being less active? Were you a teen sloth? 



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