Fitness gender gap as 15pc more boys than girls exercise each day
A significant gender gap has emerged as Irish schoolboys become more active while exercise levels among girls have shown little improvement, a new global study reveals today.
It means a huge exercise divide has opened up between girls and boys in Ireland, according to the study published in the prestigious 'Lancet' journal.
The difference of more than 15pc in Ireland between the proportion of boys getting at least one hour's exercise a day and girls who are managing the same activity levels is the largest globally. It is on par with the United States.
Experts warn the amount of screen time they are spending on their computers and phones means they are less likely to take part in unstructured exercise.
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Girls may also be dropping out of sport because of academic pressures, peer influences and competing interests.
Technological distractions, including social networks, computer games and mobile phones are getting in the way of activity.
The first ever global trends survey for adolescent physical activity shows urgent action is needed to get girls and boys exercising.
Most countries in the study saw the same gender gap widen between 2001 and 2016.
The study, which looked at physical activity among those aged 11 to 17 between 2001 and 2016, found Ireland is one the countries which has seen the greatest increase in boys getting the recommended level of daily exercise.
Some 71pc of boys here were not active enough in 2001, but this has now dropped to 64pc.
However, among girls of the same age in Ireland the exercise dial has hardly changed - 80.6pc were not clocking up least an hour a day of exercise in 2001 and 80.5pc are still spending too much time on the couch.
The high level of persistent inactivity in both boys and girls in Ireland is leaving them at risk of being overweight or obese as well as problems such a diabetes and heart disease.
The study, by researchers at the World Health Organisation, was based on data reported by 1.6 million 11- to 17-year-old students.
Across all the 146 countries studied between 2001 and 2016 girls were less active than boys in all but four - Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan and Zambia.
The global difference in the proportion of boys and girls meeting the recommendations was greater than 10pc in almost one in three countries in 2016.
The authors say that levels of insufficient physical activity in adolescents continue to be extremely high, compromising current and future health.
"Urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls' participation in physical activity," says study author Dr Regina Guthold.
The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle during adolescence include improved heart and lung function, muscular fitness and bone health. It also helps a young person keep their weight in check.
Current evidence suggests many of these benefits continue into adulthood.
Urgent scaling up is needed of known effective policies and programmes to increase physical activity in adolescents. Education, urban planning and road safety are all factors which influence exercise levels.
It says strong political will and action can address the fact that four in every five adolescents do not enjoy regular exercise.