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Physical Activity and Adolescent Girls – Knowledge Exchange Network

This feature has been developed to support a knowledge exchange network on physical activity in adolescent girls.

The network was established on the basis of funding by the Scottish Funding Council, who in 2008 funded a number of pilot initiatives to increase knowledge exchange on public policy.

A focus of the network’s activity has been to provide easy access to materials and resources that might be of help/interest/benefit to practitioners, academics and policy makers on the topic.  This has been facilitated through the PAHA web site, and whilst a number of these resources have already been made available, it is hoped that members will add further resources. 

These resources may be government reports, academic articles or links to web sites but most importantly, should also include information on any projects or initiatives for which there might otherwise not be a mechanism to disseminate and report to others.  This process should not only strengthen and improve the resource base, but will facilitate an ongoing platform for knowledge exchange. 

To date, within this site there are numerous journal articles, leaflets and reports that focus on physical activity and adolescent girls.  The quantity and quality of these documents indicates the importance of this area for research and intervention.  These resources focus on a number of broad topics:

1] Prevalence studies

A number of the articles describe the rates, frequencies and intensity of physical activity of adolescent females (e.g. Persistent socio-demographic differences in physical activity among Scottish schoolchildren).

The majority of the studies were carried out in Scotland, England and America.  These studies generally indicate that in adolescence rates of physical activity decrease with age.  Adolescent females are also substantially less active then their male counterparts (Adolescent Patterns of Physical Activity:  Differences by Gender, Day, and Time of Day).  A large-scale review that compares physical activity levels between countries is also included (Girls’ Participation in Physical Activities and Sports:  Benefits, Patterns, Influences and Ways Forward).

The decline in physical activity participation is especially evident in the transition between primary and secondary school (From Primary to Secondary School:  Changes in Scottish Girls’ Physical Activity and Perceptions of Competence).  It should also be noted that all research findings were not negative, for example It’s not all bad news:  Girls do enjoy being active, established that girls enjoyed participating in physical activity.

2] Barriers to participation

A number of articles have also researched the potential barriers that prevent adolescent girls from participating in physical activity.  These barriers are extremely varied, and differences can be seen between different groups, e.g. different ethnic or social class groups. 

The barriers identified highlight the complexity of this issue: these factors range from financial and psychological to environmental. 

Overwhelmingly, girls mention factors such self-esteem and body image issues as preventing them exercising (Social physique anxiety and physical activity in early adolescent girls:  The influence of maturation and physical activity motives). Social determinants, such as parental support, were also noted as being important predictive factors of physical activity (Parental Provision of Transportation for Adolescent Physical Activity).  Environmental factors such as poor access to suitable facilities and the lack of opportunity to exercise in a female only facility/class also contribute to poor participation levels (Her Life Depends On It:  Sport, Physical Activity and the Health and Well-Being of American Girl). 

An interesting barrier to participation that arose from many articles was adolescent girls perception of femininity, and their opinion that being sporty was not an aspirational female characteristic.   This may be overcome by encouraging media promotion of female athletes (Profiling sport role models to enhance initiatives for adolescent girls in physical education and sport).

3] Intervention studies to increase physical activity levels

A number of journal articles and reports focus on targeted interventions for adolescent girls.  Specifically for Scotland there a number of reviews of the effcicy of the Active Schools Programme (Active Schools Network Evaluation Year Three (2006/2007):  Loughborough Summary Report and Sport Scotland Response).

Overall, interventions have provided mixed results.  For example a large-scale review of interventions conducted throughout the world, established that many interventions did not generate sizeable changes in behaviour (School-based physical activity programs for promoting physical activity and fitness in children and adolescents aged 6-18).

However a theme that arises from these interventions is the necessity for overarching policy change and a collaborative approach to improving participation.  Therefore it is necessary that teachers, head-teachers, leisure facility providers and policy makers work together in order to encourage physical activity in this at risk group.

4] Good practice and policy resources

This website also provides links to policy documents (e.g. British Heart Foundation Active Schools Information) and examples of good practice from throughout the U.K. and further afield (e.g. Making Women and Girls More Active: A Good Practice Guide).  These types of documents may be particularly useful for practitioners who which to engage and promote physical activity more effectively with adolescent girls. 

5] Accessible information for practitioners, teachers and teenage girls

These documents provide accessible information for the above target groups.  For example, the Teenage girls- getting them active leaflet provides easy to access information for practitioners and teenage girls that addresses the benefits and barriers to physical activity.  The links to websites, such as Fitness Industry Association and What works for women provides excellent examples of how local authorities and schools have improved physical activity participation with this group.  These ideas could be easily translated into practice.



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