Adjusting from elementary school to middle school can be tough for kids, and it's during this time that physical activity starts to drop significantly.
Recent studies indicate that fewer than 12 percent of all adolescent boys receive 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, as recommended by the federal government. While girls have a similar decline in physical activity, adolescent boys have higher rates of obesity, highlighting the need to address barriers to physical activity in this demographic.
Researchers led by Lorraine Robbins of Michigan State University set out to identify exercise barriers in sixth grade boys, and how best to overcome them.
The Research & Results
Seven focus groups consisting of racially diverse sixth graders from two separate public middle schools were formed to discuss physical activity. The boys were encouraged to talk about the things that prevented them from wanting to participate in exercise as well as things that might make exercise more appealing. Regularly cited barriers to exercise included:
- Lack of personal motivation to exercise
- Lack of available exercise equipment at schools
- Few neighborhood options for physical activity (few parks, small yards, etc.)
- Personal preference for playing video games and watching TV
Upon discussing these issues with the boys, it became evident that many of them lack the after school resources to participate in regular physical activity. Many sixth graders are home alone after school because their parents work. They're left to make their own decisions regarding food, physical activity and exercise. As a result, they often choose to stay inside playing video games and eating junk food, rather than making healthier choices. This is particularly true if healthier choices, like exercise equipment and access to parks, aren't readily available.
When asked to discuss ideas for increasing physical activity, the boys indicated that they would be interested in participating in after-school physical activity programs held from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. They also said they'd be more likely to participate if their parents were actively involved in encouraging or requiring participation and if the program was specific to sixth grade boys. Most of the boys indicated they did not want girls or older boys involved.
If you have boys between the ages of 10 and 14, it's time to come up with a plan for keeping them physically active during this critical period in their lives. It's easy to start thinking that they're growing up, that they can start making some decisions on their own. And while that's true to an extent, it's vitally important to their long-term health that you remain vigilant about keeping them active on a daily basis.
If you're the parent to young girls, don't assume you're in the clear. Girls tend to be even less physically active than boys, so you need to address their physical activity as well.
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