Why are girls less sporty than boys?

I’ve regularly noticed that, among my friends, it tends to be the men who take part in a regular sport or physical activity rather than the women. Though the women (including me) often feel we should be doing more. Even as teenagers, I remember the girls, on average, being less keen than the boys, with notable exceptions.

So this got me thinking: could it all begin in childhood? 

I recently came across a study asking this very question. A team from the University of Canberra in Australia looked at this disparity in physical activity between boys and girls.

They say in the journal PLoS One that this disparity «is a persistent finding in the literature». And the team believes that if we had a better understanding of what’s causing it we could increase activity levels among girls.

So they used details on 276 boys and 279 girls aged 8 and 12 years, at 29 Australian schools. The effects of family and the environment were also examined. All the children wore a pedometer and were given tests including running, throwing and catching.

This showed that girls were 19% less active than boys, and were less physically fit at age 8. The girls had 18% lower cardio-respiratory fitness, 44% lower eye-hand coordination, a higher percent body fat, and 9% lower «perceived competence» in physical education, measured by a questionnaire.

Commenting on the findings,
the researchers suggest that the home, school, and extracurricular environments all need to change, in order to support the girls as much as the boys.

There’s currently a lot of research happening to find out how exactly these changes can be made, and initiatives to encourage girls into sport and physical activity more broadly. One of these is Sport England’s «This Girl Can» campaign.

With all this progress under way, I hope future generations will be helped to form good exercise habits and gain all the health advantages that brings.