Girls' Perceptions of Physical Education Research Paper

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They analyzed the data by sex, so that obesity rates for boys and girls could be separated out. Figure 1 shows the findings of their study.

Figure 1. Increased Numbers of Overweight and Obese Children in Canada, 1981-1996

As can be seen from viewing Figure 1, the rates of obesity for boys are higher than for girls at these early ages. Tremblay and Willms suggest that "environmental" factors such as diet and leisure lifestyles are largely the culprit, and they hint that perhaps at these early ages boys have a less healthy lifestyle than girls, especially in light of the prevalence of video-game play among boys. In any event, the discrepancy seems significant, since Tjepkema (2005) finds that, by adulthood, the relationship has reversed. Figure 2 presents his findings, taken from the national Canada Community Health survey. By age 35, women have caught men in terms of the prevalence of obesity, with about 1 in 5 women suffering from obesity. With each advancing age group, women increase their rates more quickly than men.

Figure 2. Obesity Rates for Canadian Men and Women, by age

These findings suggest that something occurs between mid-adolescence and adulthood that causes women to have more sedentary lives or worse diets, or both, leading to increased obesity. The rate at which women lose ground to men gains over time, with each advancing age. Tjepkema argues that increases in obesity among women occurs even for moderately active women. While this suggests that physiological factors may be at play, based on the difference between men and women's body chemistry and lifestyle choices, the essential point is that in early life girls are less likely to be obese than boys, while in later life women are more likely to be obese than men.

In the above discussion, the basic rates of obesity themselves should not be discounted on the way to making the point about gender differences. Over the 15-year gap in the Tremblay and Willms (2001) study, the rate of overweight children went from under 15% to over 25%, while the rate of obese children went from an average of 5% to an average rate of about 12%. These rates are alarming because youth obesity has been linked to many diverse factors which negatively impact upon health, including diabetes, hypertension, and poor body image in youth, and increased morbidity and mortality in adulthood. In fact Finkelstein, Fiebelkorn, and Wang (2003) calculated the additional monetary costs that overweight and obese people incur for their healthcare due to their condition. Table 1 presents these findings. Viewing the table, it become clear that the aggregated numbers for increased costs due to obesity are significant. In total, overweight and obese people spend between $52 billion and $79 billion more in healthcare, while obese people alone spend between $27 billion and $48 billion. The physical health problems caused by obesity are therefore met with significantly social and economic costs.

Table 1, Aggregate Medical Spending, in Billions of Dollars, Attributable to Overweight and Obesity, by Insurance Status and Data Source, 1996 -- 1998

Insurance Category

Overweight and Obesity


MEPS (1998)

NHA (1998)

MEPS (1998)

NHA (1998)


























Note: Calculations based on data from the 1998 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey merged with the 1996 and 1997 National Health Interview Surveys, and health care expenditures data from National Health Accounts (NHA). MEPS estimates do not include spending for institutionalized populations, including nursing home residents.

Source: Finkelstein, Fiebelkorn, and Wang, 2003

Other studies have echoed these findings, including one conducted by Troiano et al. (1995). The conclusion many of these studies reach rings true with the need for increased physical education. Troiano et al. argue that "primary prevention" is needed to improve youth health. This argument gains particular significance when it is pointed out that young people establish habits that carry over throughout life and that, therefore, improvements made at early ages in lifestyle and physical activity are more likely to endure (Thompson, Humbert, and Mirwald, 2003). Tremblay and Willms (2001) claim that what is needed is "effective health promotion planning and policy and legislation development." School-based curriculum revolving around physical education is one particular place where such prevention and programming can take place. In fact, McKenzie (1999) reviewed a variety of definitions concerning how much exercise is enough in order to control such concerns as obesity and to promote health, and found that student participation in physical education classes is the best hope many children have for achieving this goal. When this suggestion is coupled with a finding by Wechsler et al., (2000) that even the extra-curricular activities, recess breaks, and sports opportunities which provide opportunities for physical activity exist within the school setting, it becomes clear that schools and physical education curricular specialists should take responsibility for designing programs that address the health needs of children and avoid the problems associated with rising obesity.

Physical Education and a Life of Activity. The link between early childhood and youth physical activity and adult physical activity has been well-documented. Thompson, Humbert and Mirwald (2003), for example, conducted a longitudinal study to determine the long-term effects of youth participation in physical activities on later levels of physical activity. They performed in-depth one-on-one interviews with 16 men and 15 women from a longitudinal study designed to determine participation rates and motivations for children with a follow-up investigation 25 years later. Their study was designed to address the factors which impacted upon different levels of physical activity in later life. For men, they found that such concerns as competence, capacity, and relationships influenced their level of adult physical activity, while for women, the key determinants were relationships, body images, and attitudes or behaviors related to physical activity formed in childhood. This finding suggests that the potential influence of physical education on such concerns as child and adult physical activity is lasting -- but that it can have either positive or negative implications.

Trudeau et al. (1999) conducted a study with a group of 147 Canadian men and women to determine whether participation in a daily physical education class during the first years of school led to lasting health benefits. They found that women who participated in physical education classes daily in the early years of schooling were more likely to remain active in later life, while men who participated in such programs, were likely to exhibit of the positive health-related characteristics, such as not smoking. These findings suggest that physical education does have lasting impacts on levels of physical activity, and that it also impacts other attitudes related to health and lifestyle.

Sherman (2001) points out that many studies have considered the short-term benefits of physical activity such as "increased muscular strength, aerobic capacity, coordination, flexibility." However, he argues fewer studies weigh the long-term health benefits. One study that did, citied at length by Sherman, was conducted by Shepard and Trudeau (2000). It weighed the participation rates of young children and measured the impact of their participation on school-based activities, as well as later adult activities. The study was conducted with 546 students, divided into an experimental group that participated in physical education for one hour daily while in school, and a control group which had less-involved participation. The findings showed that, as with the Trudeau et al. research, women who participated in more physical activity as youth also participated in more physical activity as adults, while men who did so have healthier attitudes and practices generally. Interestingly, Shepard and Trudeau also found that those in the experimental group were more likely to recall the names of their physical education teacher and their class schedule related to physical education. This finding could constitute a correlational rather than a causal link, but the fact alone suggests that there was something about more frequent participation in physical education classes that students liked and remembered. Therefore, the psychological impact of participation can also be shown to have a lasting influence.

The effects of physical education and activity, therefore, seem to be clearly linked to health concerns such as obesity and lifelong physical activity. As a response to this link, physical educators have been asked to consider the role that their programs play in public health generally (Sallis and McKenzie, 1991). The role of such programs as extracurricular activities and sports clubs have also been linked to physical education generally, as school-based delivery of early physical culture has been shown to be critical for developing physical literacy among the population. Due to its importance, physical education must be planned and implemented correctly in order to draw in all students and maintain their committed participation throughout their school careers. Unfortunately, abundance research exists which shows that this is not the case. Specifically, the treatment and perception of…

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