A new study from the University of Georgia found that a supportive school environment may be the answer to the fact that 75% of teens aren’t getting enough exercise, according to an article from UGA Today.
The lack of daily recommended exercise is even more apparent in female students, according to the article. But the research suggests that improving the school climate could increase the amount of physical activity in teens.
According to lead author Janani Thapa, an associate professor of health policy and management at UGA’s College of Public Health, just as healthy school environments increase healthy eating habits, the same can go for physical activity.
“The length of recess, physical facilities and social environments at schools have been found to affect physical activity among students,” Thapa said in the article. Thapa has been a lead evaluator in programs across the state intended to boost physical activity in K-12 schools, according to the article.
“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,” Thapa said in the article.
The school climate affects many factors in why students may not want to participate in exercise, such as bullying, safety and social support, according to the study. Thapa said in the article that the link between school climate and physical activity is still relatively unknown, prompting the research into the two.
Thapa and the co-authors of the study used a statewide survey of 362,926 high school students, 48% male and 52% female, that asked questions about physical activity levels and the school climate.
The data showed that the odds of being physically active increased with a positive report in the school climate, including factors like peer social support, cultural acceptance and school physical environments.
However, the study found that while more physical activity lowered the odds of facing peer victimization for males, it increased the odds for females. Female students also reported less physical activity than the male students, only 35% were active compared to 57% of males.
The only measure of social climate that differed between the genders was bullying, while female students who reported being bullied increased their physical activity, males who reported being bullied did the opposite, according to the study.
The authors explained this difference with the presence of exercise norms influenced by feminine and masculine ideals, said the article.
But still across the board, the study showed that students of both genders tended to be more physically active when the school climate appeared to be more positive and supportive.
The researchers concluded that improving school climate by fostering an environment with peer support, feelings of safety and connectedness may increase the amount of physical activity among adolescent students. More research is needed on peer victimization among physically active females.