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Study explores how schools should help kids get more exercise

The team used data from a state-wide survey of over 360,000 Georgia high school students.

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By Danny Halpin via SWNS

Schools can do more to help kids get fit by providing the right environment for physical activity, according to a new study.

In the US three out of four teenagers (75 percent) aren't getting the correct amount of exercise.

A research team from the University of Georgia (UGA) says that improving non-sports areas of a school, for example, social support, can help increase physical activity.

They also examined whether gender played a role, as girls did less activity than boys.

In fact, where girls reported being bullied they were more likely to be active whereas bullied boys weren't.

The researchers claim this could be because sporty girls go against the 'norm' and are therefore more prone to bullying.

The team used data from a state-wide survey of over 360,000 Georgia high school students quizzed on physical activity and school climate, in order to test the relationship between the two factors.

The data included eight characteristics of climate: school connectedness, peer social support, adult social support, cultural acceptance, physical environment, school safety, bullying and the school support environment.

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Lead author Dr. Janani Thapa, Associate Professor of health policy at UGA, said school environments play a critical role in helping children develop healthy behaviors and eating habits.

Prof Thapa said: “The length of recess, physical facilities and social environments at schools have been found to affect physical activity among students.

“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.”

She also said that school climate could play an important role in determining how comfortable students feel participating in school sports or other physical activities.

She added: “We do not know much about the role of school climate on physical activity.

“There must have been barriers that were faced by certain groups of students. Hence, we wanted to investigate the difference by gender.”

Overall, female students reported doing less physical activity than their male counterparts, with only 35 percent being active compared to 57 percent of males.

For both genders, physical activity declined steadily from the age of 14-18.

However, all students were more physically active when the school climate was perceived to be positive across most measures.

Bullying was the only measure of school climate that differed between girls and boys.

The authors explained this disparity by highlighting the different norms about exercise and masculine and feminine ideals.

Prof Thapa added: “For example, female students who are active in sports and physically active may not fit the gender norm and hence may face bullying.”

The findings suggest that schools that want to promote participation in physical activity should consider how to improve students’ sense of safety at school and bolster peer and adult support of exercise.

The study was published in the Journal of Adolescence.

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