An Equal Footing for Girls

kelechiHow can we better promote walking and bicycling to school among girls? Studies show that the odds of walking and bicycling to school are 40 percent lower in girls than in boys (Giles-Corti et al, 2011; McDonald, 2012; McMillan et al, 2006). Regardless of ethnicity, females seem to participate in less physical activity inside or outside of school than males (Rodriguez et al, 2011).

But what’s interesting is that while boys tend to record more steps walked on school days compared with girls, girls recorded more steps walked on weekend days compared with boys. (Goodman et al, 2012). Similarly, in another study, active travel was associated with higher overall activity levels in boys and greater after-school activity levels in girls. (Smith et al, 2012).

What seems to be the cause of this? Well, these physical activity differences may result from girls’ observed lower levels of independent mobility, as parents care for their sons and daughters differently. Adult pedestrians behave differently when accompanying boys and girls and at different types of road crossing sites. In fact, adults’ pedestrian safety behavior scores were higher when accompanying girls than when accompanying boys (Pfeffer, Fagbemi, & Stennet, 2010).

Granted, pedestrian injuries are a major cause of morbidity and mortality to children, especially boys, and this is not a fact to be taken lightly in any way. But in the same breath, we must ensure that our girls find healthy, active lifestyles appealing at young ages, so that it continues on through adulthood and for generations to come.

McDonald (2012) suggests that policy interventions, such as the Safe Routes to School program, can address gender differences by engaging girls in the programs. Activities such as the Walking School Bus can boost participation levels for girls since it provides adult supervision for all participating students, easing parent fears. And in no time, girls will be two steps ahead!