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After High School, Young Women's Exercise Rates Plunge

Monday, June 11, 2018
By Sara Kiley Watson
Sarah Armstrong; Charlene Wong

Young women, especially young women of color, tend to get less exercise than their male counterparts, and the disparities worsen after high school ends.

This is the finding of a study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

As teens, 88 percent of boys report being physically active, compared to 78 percent of girls. Once the high school days of soccer games, track practices and physical education classes have ended, around 73 percent of young men stay active, but only 62 percent of women do.

For women of color, this drop in exercise is even more stark. Close to 70 percent of black women say they are physically active in their teens, but only around 45 percent are active when they reach their 20s.

"The bottom line for this study is that there is a lot of room for improving how physically active teens and young adults in our country are," says Dr. Charlene Wong, a coauthor of the study and a professor of pediatrics at Duke University. The study authors analyzed reports of physical activity from 9,472 young people across the U.S. by income, race and sex from 2007 to 2016, drawing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Percentage of Individuals Reporting Any Moderate or Vigorous Physical Activity by Age and Sex

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007-2016

They found that while most young men are meeting recommended guidelines for exercise (60 minutes a day for youth or 150 minutes a week for adults), young women aren't. There are several reason why young women are less active than men, says Dr. Holly Gooding, an adolescent medicine specialist at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study.

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