Exercise as it relates to Disease/Ignorance or Laziness: Why are girls less physically active than boys?

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This page is a critical appraisal of the journal article "Why Are Girls Less Physically Active thanBoys? Findings from the LOOK Longitudinal Study" by Rohan M. Telford, Richard D. Telford, Lisa S. Olive, Thomas Cochrane and Rachel Davey. This review has been created by 3144582.

What is the background to this research?[edit | edit source]

Physical inactivity is the biggest issue facing humanity in the 21st century.[1] Despite government initiatives and other resourceful attempts to combat the issue, almost two thirds (63%) of Australian adults, and one quarter (25%) of Australian children are overweight or obese.[2] Findings within recent literature [3] indicate a disparity of PA between boys and girls as early as 8 years old. The objective of this study is to identify possible factors that may attribute to the decrease in PA, whilst observing potential biopsychosocial influences that may account to the disparity.[4]

Where is the research from?[edit | edit source]

The study is a part of the LOOK lifestyle study; a ‘multidisciplinary’ and ‘collaborative’ longitudinal observation assessing exercise and behavioral patterns from early, to later life.[4] LOOK is currently ongoing, however, this study in particular was conducted over 4 years (2005–2008).[4] Research was conducted within the University of Canberra (UC) and Australian National University (ANU) in the following departments:[4]

  1. Centre for Research and Action in Public Health, Health Research Institute, University of Canberra – Rohan Telford, Thomas Cochrane, Rachel Davey
  2. Medical School, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, Australian National University - Richard Telford
  3. Research Institute for Sport and Exercise, University of Canberra – Richard Telford
  4. Department of Psychology, Australian National University – Lisa S. Olive

Funding was provided by the Commonwealth Education Trust and, correspondingly, had no role in the collection or analysis of data ruling out potential conflicts of interest and bias on this behalf.[4]

What did the research involve?[edit | edit source]

The study involved a cross-sectional, longitudinal approach conducted over 4 years (2005–2008) involving the cooperation of 29, Government-funded, outer-suburb Primary schools, from an Australian city with a population of 325,000.[4] A multilevel framework was constructed, focussed on three potential variables (the individual level, the family level, the environmental level) which, from previous research,[5] indicate may be of potential influence to the hypothesis.[4] Table 1 refers to the methods of testing used in order to assess the correlates.

Table 1. Data analysis testing method's and correlates

Correlate Testing Method
Individual level
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness (Multi-Stage Run)
  • Body-fat percentage (DEXA)
  • Perceived competence in PE (Questionnaire)
  • Hand-Eye coordination (Throw and Catch Test)
Family Level
  • Parents support for physical activity (Questionnaire)
  • Level of parent education (Questionnaire)
Environmental Level
  • Influence of the school attended
  • Extracurricular sports-club

All students in Second Grade of the participating schools were invited to perform in the study, through written consent of their Parents/Guardians.[4] 853 participants took place in the initial assessment, of which, 276 boys and 279 girls (555 total) returned valid data in the first stage (8 years).[4] The 175 boys and 186 girls (361 total) completed the follow-up assessment at age 12 – 194 participants withdrew.[4] School relocation was the main factor influencing the decrease of participants.[4]

What were the basic results?[edit | edit source]

The findings are suggestive of the hypothesis, however, no significant evidence indicated a definitive answer as to why girls are less physically active. With this being said, the literature revealed multiple areas for discussion and potential future research. Firstly, findings indicated that girls, on average had ‘less favourable individual attributes associated with Physical Activity’ which are displayed in Table 2.[4] These may prevent girls from wanting to participate in physical activity, however there is no conclusive evidence to support this statement from this study in particular. When addressing the ‘family’ and ‘school’ levels, the data revealed a relationship between low levels of PA within girls, coinciding with weaker influences within the family and school level than when comparing to boys.[4]

Table 2. Results

Correlate Girls Boys
Individual level Lower CRF, Lower EHC, Higher %BF, Lower levels perceived competence in PE. Higher CRF, Higher EHC, Lower %BF, Higher perceived competence in PE.
Family Level Lower participation in extracurricular sport Higher participation in extracurricuar sport
Environmental Level School has no influence on PA School had influence on PA

How was this interpretated?[edit | edit source]

The researchers agreed that although there was no definitive indication of a specific variable that may influence PA among boys and girls, the evidence was suggestive that external influences on the Family and Environmental level were significantly lower for girls than boys. The lack of influence, coupled with unfavourable physical attributes such as lower EHC, Higher %BF may be indicative of the disparity between boys and girls. As a society, we are responsible for providing an equal playing field for our children. We must ensure that equal opportunities are provided for both boys and girls to actively participate in physical activity. Future research and action with a specific focus on these variables previously mentioned, along with intervention strategies should be implemented in future research within the field.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Physical activity in childhood and adolescence as predictor of physical activity in young adulthood


  • Evidence Based Physical Activity for School-age Youth


  • Physical activity from childhood to adulthood


References[edit | edit source]

  1. Blair S. Physical inactivity: the biggest public health problem of the 21st century. British Journal of Sports Medicine [Internet]. 2009 [cited 25 September 2016];43(1):1-2. Available from: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/43/1/1.short
  2. Overweight and obesity (AIHW) [Internet]. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2016 [cited 24 September 2016]. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/overweight-and-obesity/
  3. Skidmore-Edwards ECarson Sackett S. Psychosocial Variables Related to Why Women are Less Active than Men and Related Health Implications. Clinical Medicine Insights: Women's Health. 2016;:47.
  4. a b c d e f g h i j k l m Telford R, Telford R, Olive L, Cochrane T, Davey R. Why Are Girls Less Physically Active than Boys? Findings from the LOOK Longitudinal Study. PLOS ONE. 2016;11(3):e0150041.
  5. 6. Hallal P, Andersen L, Bull F, Guthold R, Haskell W, Ekelund U. Global physical activity levels: surveillance progress, pitfalls, and prospects. The Lancet. 2012;380(9838):247-257.

Reference List