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Gender Differences in a Youth Physical Activity Intervention: Movement Levels and Children's Perceptions 

Jen McGovern, Staci R Drewson, Andrea Hope, and James F. Konopack

ajhe cover March April 2020

According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for morbidity and mortality throughout the lifespan. Sedentary behavior, physical inactivity and obesity are increasingly prevalent public health issues for children and have been linked to numerous negative outcomes. In the United States between 2013–2014, 17.4% of children ages 6–11 were classified as obese. Childhood obesity is associated with serious health risks including high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. The risks for children are not limited to the physical domain. Childhood obesity and inactivity have also been linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression and lower levels of self-esteem and quality of life.

Increasing physical activity (PA) can help reduce some of the risks associated with sedentary behavior but empirical evidence repeatedly indicates boys are more physically active than girls. In comprehensive cross-sectional studies, girls consistently fall below recommended guidelines for physical activity and are less likely to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). PA differences between boys and girls magnify as they approach adolescence with age-related declines particularly prominent among girls. For instance, work by Pate and colleagues showed that PA among girls decreased 4% a year between 6th and 8th grade with further PA declines between 8th and 12th grade. Pate et al. suggest the likelihood of participating in PA in 12th grade is strongly associated with PA participation earlier in life. Within the United States (US), gender differences in PA engagement are even greater among children from low-income families and among ethnoracial minorities.

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