The Problem: Girls Aren’t Active Enough
Almost half of kids in the U.S. aren’t active enough and this problem is much more common in girls than boys. Not only that, but the rate of physical activity declines significantly as girls get older, which makes it critical to help them develop healthy, sustainable physical activity and mental wellness habits in middle school.
Girls are getting less physical activity, and it’s impacting their heart health:
- Only 39% of middle school girls report 60 minutes of daily physical activity. On the other hand, 58% of boys say they exercise for an hour or more.
- Only 51% of girls have healthy aerobic capacity in 5th grade and by 12th grade, the number drops to 31%
According to the CDC & The World Health Organization: Research suggests that physical activity improves brain function and can translate into stronger academic performance, better classroom behavior and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.
Inactivity in Girls is a “Major Concern”
A new WHO-led study says the majority of adolescents worldwide are not sufficiently physically active, putting their current and future health at risk.
According to the CDC, 84% of adolescent girls get insufficient physical activity and 21% of adolescent girls are overweight or obese. Middle school girls are less active, which is negatively impacting their physical and mental health—leading to a variety of health issues as well as social, emotional and academic issues.
Physical Activity Linked to Better Mental Health during the COVID-19 pandemic
A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, found that supportive relationships with family and friends and healthy behaviors, like engaging in physical activity and better sleep, appeared to shield against the harmful effects of the pandemic on adolescents’ mental health. Researchers also explored predictors of perceived stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, and found that girls were more likely than boys to experience psychological distress during the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified health disparities and increased mental health issues for adolescents. Middle school girls, who already faced rising levels of anxiety and depression, have experienced trauma during the course of the pandemic due to disrupted support systems, loss of social connection and increased sedentary behaviors.
Georgia’s Middle School Girls
Every year, Georgia assesses more than 1 million students’ fitness levels. In more than 40 Georgia counties, fewer than 1 in 3 girls reach the healthy fitness zone in aerobic capacity, a measure of the ability of the heart, lungs, and muscles to perform sustained physical activity.
Good aerobic capacity lowers an individual’s risk of developing high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Students with better aerobic capacity tend to perform better in school.
There is also a gender disparity between PA levels and fitness among boys and girls. In Georgia, 2017 Fitnessgram data show 57% of 8th grade boys in the state reach the healthy fitness zone on heart health, while only 41% of girls clear the bar. This critical issue threatens the health of today’s girls and tomorrow’s workforce.
Girls Are More Likely To Opt Out of Physical Education
Physical Education classes provided in schools aren’t enough. There are many barriers preventing girls from participating in sports and physical activity programs while in middle and high school. This problem is particularly acute in Georgia, where there’s no requirement for kids to take P.E. after 5th grade. In 2018 alone, 56,000 middle school girls in Georgia opted out of Physical Education Class.
Rather than designing another physical activity program that doesn’t work for girls today, GEM is putting girls at the forefront as youth leaders to change the health of their generation and motivate almost 200,000 middle school girls across Georgia to get moving.
Through strong partnerships and unique programming, GEM is empowering girls to create physical activity programs, improve fitness levels, promote long term health, and enhance their emotional well-being. Your support today will help us continue to deliver innovative youth-led programming to girls across Georgia.