While Utah is one of the most physically active states, research shows that Utah girls and women are less active than boys and men.
Susan Madsen, Rachel Myrer and Kim Buesser authored the study through Utah State University’s Utah Women & Leadership Project, which collected and analyzed data from other studies done by professors and organizations in Utah.
Madsen said only 28% of Utah boys and men meet physical recommendations, while only 14% of girls and women meet those standards.
Madsen said there were three main barriers that affect the physical activity of girls and women, one being physical education classes and how they focus on competitive sports.
“It’s great for boys and men, but many women don’t necessarily like competitive sports,” she said. “If you gave them a choice they would choose to hike, walk, do yoga, something that’s not as competitive but gets them moving.”
The physical activity of a child’s parents has a significant effect, Madsen said.
“When you grow up and don’t see your parents exercise, then you don’t tend to,” she said. “When your kids see you move, even really young, those habits can be formed.”
Another barrier lies within the motivation for working out. Madsen said one of the critical things they found out in their research was that when women are physically active, it’s related to their appearance and attractiveness.
“The research found that if their main motivation is appearance, then they lose some of the benefits of fitness and they aren’t as motivated,” she said. “If it’s about how you look, it’s not enough motivation to move into lifelong fitness.”
Myrer said one way to get girls more active is simply to ask them what they’d like to do in physical education classes in school.
“I’ve never been in a physical education environment where I was asked what my preferences were,” she said. “If we can get girls and boys engaged in activities they enjoy, then they can be more physically active.”
She said there also needs to be adequate time and areas for people to change before and after classes.
Myrer said she became interested in the issues the study discusses because she is a regular bike commuter and noticed that she was often the only woman in the group.
Myrer said she hopes there can be more public awareness about the difference in girls and boys being active, and for organizations like Girls on the Run and SheJumps.
Madsen said she hopes that parents and older siblings set the example for younger children.
“Don’t be sitting around watching TV all the time,” she said. “Find ways to move and help your kids love being outside and moving.”
Madsen said one thing that makes Utah stand out from other states is the focus on physical appearance. One of the studies they looked at showed that Utah has very high levels of cosmetic surgery.
“We have more girls and young women with body image issues compared to other states,” she said. “Girls and young women get inundated with women using their body as an object for people to look at. We see so much of that, and that’s increasing in leaps and bounds year by year. When they can see women use their bodies to move and do things, not just to be seen by others and admired, there’s so much research to say that that’s so much more healthy.”