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Girls losing out in physical activity gender gap

As adults, we should all be ashamed that we have allowed a situation to develop in society where girls disconnect from sport at a young age
– Ruth Holdaway, chief executive, Women in Sport

Girls are missing out on the benefits of physical activity due to mounting pressures, a study has revealed.

Data released today (7 November) by the Youth Sport Trust (YST) and Women in Sport looked at the responses of 25,000 pupils from 138 secondary schools across England and Northern Ireland.

It showed that both boys and girls understand the importance of an active lifestyle but there is a significant disconnect with actual behaviour among girls.

The survey data shows:

• Secondary school aged boys (11-16) are happier with the amount of physical activity they take part in and enjoy it more than girls (71 per cent of boys compared to 56 per cent of girls).

• Pressure of school work and low confidence are much bigger barriers to taking part in physical activity for girls than boys (24 per cent of girls compared to 13 per cent of boys)

• Satisfaction with body image for girls declines with age. One in four are unhappy with their body image at 11-13 years. This figure increases to one in three by the time they reach 14-16 years.

• Girls do not see the relevance of the skills they learn in PE to their lives (45 per cent of girls compared to 60 per cent of boys).

The authors of the report said painful periods, issues with confidence and self-consciousness, the pressure of academic school work, and lack of encouragement from teachers and parents, all hold teenage girls back from being physically active.

The Girls Active programme has been working to tackle the problem. Developed by the YST in partnership with This Girl Can and Women in Sport, it involves girls in the design and delivery of PE and physical activity and has already reached 50,000 girls in 200 secondary schools, with a further 200 set to join the programme. The project is funded by Sport England.

Gracie Rowe, a 14-year-old pupil from Hertfordshire, experienced the benefits when she joined the programme and her PE teacher put together a group for girls with lower participation levels to find activities they enjoyed.

“Just the very thought of sport used to make me feel bored and uncomfortable,” said Rowe. “All my friends hated PE just as much as I did and I didn’t used to want anything to do with sport.

“Now I’m involved with Girls Active, it makes me feel good mentally and physically and I’m way more confident and happy.

“I feel empowered now to influence other girls who were like me by showing them that there is no limit to what you can do. It doesn’t matter on your size, age or ability level. Start with what you are comfortable with and push those boundaries.”

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