According to their findings, three out of four teens aren’t meeting daily physical activity recommendations. The team explained that school environments and culture may be responsible for these low activity levels.
“The length of recess, physical facilities, and social environments at schools have been found to affect physical activity among students,” said researcher Janani R. Thapa. “Over time, the state has observed declining levels of physical activity among all adolescents, but the rate is higher among female middle and high school students.”
Declining physical activity
For the study, the researchers surveyed over 360,000 Georgia high school students. They answered questions about their physical activity and their school atmosphere, which included things like physical environment, school connectedness, school safety, and support at school, among other factors.
The researchers learned that 75% of the students weren’t meeting daily exercise recommendations, and female students were less active than male students. Among the students, nearly 60% of male students were regularly physically active, compared with just 35% of female students.
The study showed that bullying played a large role in these gender disparities in physical activity. Female students faced more bullying over physical activity than their male counterparts – especially when they recorded some of the highest levels of physical activity. The researchers explained that stereotypes and societal norms around exercise and physical activity could explain this trend.
“For example, female students who are active in sports and physically active may not fit the gender norm and hence may face bullying,” Thapa said.
Improving environments to promote activity
Regardless of gender, the researchers learned that when kids reported having a positive school environment, they were more likely to be physically active. When they felt more support, greater connection to their classmates and teachers, and more acceptance, all students were more active.
Moving forward, the researchers hope that more work is done to prioritize the benefits of physical activity among high school students.
“Results suggest that improving school climate can increase physical activity among adolescents,” the researchers wrote. “As new or existing school-based interventions and policies are considered by states and local governments, improving the school climate should be part of the overall strategy.”