Physical Activity & Sport in the Lives of Girls (page 3)
THE PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL ON PHYSICAL FITNESS AND SPORTS (PCPFS) serves as a catalyst to promote, encourage and motivate the development of physical activity, fitness and sport participation for all Americans. This report expresses the PCPFS’s mission to inform the general public of the importance of developing and maintaining physical activity and fitness in our daily lives, and to heighten awareness of the links that exist between regular physical activity and good health. In the past, involvement in sport and physical activity has been primarily associated with males. Over the past two decades, however, girls’ and women’s involvement in such activity has increased dramatically. This is in large part due to the impact of Title IX, federal legislation passed in 1972 designed to prohibit sex discrimination in educational settings. For example, prior to Title IX, 300,000 young women participated in interscholastic athletics nationwide; today, that figure has leaped to approximately 2.25 million participants. In the wake of this participation explosion, scholars and educators have begun to explore its impact on girls and women.
Physical Activity and Sport in the Lives of Girls: Physical and Mental Health Dimensions from an Interdisciplinary Approach was created in order to highlight relevant research and draw on expert opinion regarding girls’ involvement in physical activity and sport. This is the first report that brings together research findings—and practical suggestions for implementing these findings—from three interdisciplinary bodies of knowledge: physiological, psychological and sociological.
The report focuses on girls and not boys (other than for comparison where appropriate) for several reasons. First, with respect to sport and physical activity, girls have been neglected by researchers in the biomedical sciences, education, physical education and the social sciences. Second, though girls and boys share common experiences, girls also exhibit unique physiological, emotional and social outcomes that merit special investigation. Next, scholars need to keep pace with the aforementioned explosion and diversification of girls’ involvement with sport and physical activity in the wake of Title IX. And finally, researchers increasingly recognize that the social world of physical activity and sport is not a one-dimensional universe, but a highly complex set of institutions populated by two genders with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, cultural values, physical abilities and sexual orientations.
Public apathy about physical education, and the glitzy distractions of commercialized sports in mass media, sometimes hide the basic fact that physical activity is a public health resource for millions of American girls as well as their families and communities. In order to advance knowledge regarding the real and potential contributions of physical activity and sport in the lives of millions of girls, several areas for future research are highlighted by the authors at the end of each section. Finally, a set of policy recommendations is also included in order to encourage responsible action on the part of parents, coaches, educators, sport leaders and elected officials. With such a “teamwork” approach, we can make a difference in the lives of girls.
KEY RESEARCH FINDINGS
Some of the most important research findings documented and highlighted in this report suggest that:
- More girls are participating in a wider array of physical activities and sports than ever before in American history. (Introduction)
- Regular physical activity in adolescence can reduce girls’ risk for obesity and hyperlipidemia (i.e., high levels of fat in the blood)which, in turn, have been known to be associated with lower adult onset of coronary heart disease and certain cancers. Regular physical activity can also help girls build greater peak bone mass, thereby reducing adult risk for osteoporosis. (Research Report, Section I)
- Exercise and sport participation can be used as a therapeutic and preventative intervention for enhancing the physical and mental health of adolescent females. (Research Report, Section IV)
- Exercise and sport participation can enhance mental health by offering adolescent girls positive feelings about body image, improved self-esteem, tangible experiences of competency and success and increased self-confidence. (Research Report, Sections II and IV)
- Research suggests that physical activity is an effective tool for reducing the symptoms of stress and depression among girls. (Research Report, Sections II and IV)
- Sports are an educational asset in girls’ lives. Research findings show that many high-school female athletes report higher grades and standardized test scores and lower dropout rates, and are more likely to go on to college than their nonathletic counterparts. (Research Report, Section III)
- Recognition of physical activity and sport as an effective and money-saving public health asset is growing among researchers and policy makers. (Introduction; Research Report, Sections I, II and IV)
- Poverty substantially limits many girls’ access to physical activity and sport, especially girls of color who are overrepresented in lower socioeconomic groups. (Introduction; Research Report, Section III)
- Excessive exercise and certain forms of athletic participation have been found to be associated with a higher prevalence of eating disorders. (Research Report, Sections I, II, III and IV)
- The potential for some girls to derive positive experiences from physical activity and sport is marred by lack of opportunity, gender stereotypes and homophobia. (Research Report, Sections III and IV)
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
A summary of some of the most important conclusions and practical recommendations discussed in this report suggest that:
- Girls should be encouraged to get involved in sport and physical activity at an early age because such involvement reduces the likelihood of developing a number of deleterious health-related conditions. For example, active girls’ high caloric expenditure decreases their risk of becoming obese. (Introduction; Research Report, Section I)
- Specific mechanisms which enhance girls’ opportunities to be physically active must be developed and supported. Recreational, school-based physical education and sport programs are ideal ways to facilitate both health-related fitness and the acquisition of fundamental motor skills for a lifetime of activity. (Research Report, Section I)
- Involvement in sport and physical activity has tremendous potential to enhance a girl’s sense of competence and control. Therefore, leaders should incorporate cooperative as well as competitive opportunities to learn physical skills in a nonthreatening environment. (Research Report, Sections II and III)
- Parents, coaches and teachers must be aware of girls’ motives for participating in sport and physical activity. Girls participate not only for competitive reasons, but to get in shape, socialize, improve skills and have fun. All motives, not just those related to highly competitive activity, must be respected and validated. (Research Report, Sections II and III)
- Physical educators, exercise leaders and coaches are in a primary position to recognize disordered eating patterns among girls. These individuals must be knowledgeable about the physical and psychological signs and be able to make referrals to specialists as necessary. (Research Report, Section II)
- Girls and boys need to work and play together, starting from an early age. It is often easier for both sexes to play together and learn in small, relaxed groups where children know each other well and have the prerequisite skills. (Research Report, Section III)
- Coaches and physical educators should give girls equal access and attention. Girls as well as boys should play the important and interesting positions in a game and receive feedback to help improve their physical skills. (Research Report, Section III)
- Professionals must actively intervene in the face of discrimination. When adults observe inequities or gender stereotyping on the playing field or in the physical education classroom, it is often best to openly confront issues of prejudice such as sexism. (Research Report, Section III)
- Involvement in physical activity, exercise and sport promotes psychological well-being; the therapeutic use of physical activity and exercise for improving the mental health of adolescent girls goes beyond traditional treatment and mental health programs. (Research Report, Section IV)
- Physical activity and exercise have been shown to be a mood enhancer and an anxiety reducer, thereby acting as a natural, cost-effective intervention for the mental health of adolescent girls. (Introduction; Research Report, Sections II and IV)
Reprinted with the permission of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
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