The gender gap oppresses young girls’ health, too

I devote a lot of space here in the Reality Health Check to the obesity crisis. And if you’ve been a reader of mine for a while, then you know nothing saddens and dismays me more than childhood obesity. Because kids rely on us to protect their health. And as a country, we are failing them miserably.

Even more disturbing, new research shows that we may be doing a particularly grave disservice to young girls…without even realizing it.

Get this: Researchers collected data on more than 500 boys and girls from nearly 30 different schools. And their findings revealed a stark gender divide when it comes to physical fitness. For starters, girls were 19 percent less active than boys.

Girls also had higher body fat and were less physically fit than boys by the time they were 8 years old. As a group, they had lower cardio-respiratory fitness and hand-eye coordination — by 18 percent and 44 percent respectively.

You might suspect these differences were biological. But the researchers found that these trends were strongly linked with influences at school and at home.

In other words, parents and teachers simply don’t encourage young girls to get physical the way they encourage boys. And it’s having a direct — and very dangerous — impact on the health of female children.

Granted, this study looked at Australian children. But it’s hardly a stretch to assume that we harbor the same gender biases here in the U.S. And with the size of our childhood obesity problem, it goes without saying that American girls have a lot more to lose — both literally and figuratively.

All children need to run and play to stay healthy. So make sure you’re encouraging the little girls in your life to go outside and get their hands dirty, too.