Research reveals impact pandemic on teenage girls’ exercise

Research from the charity Women in Sport, funded by Comic Relief, has shown how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the lives of teenage girls and their relationship with sport and physical activity.  

The research found that 82 per cent of girls say they will put more effort into being active when life returns to normal. Half of the girls (51 per cent) surveyed were concerned that they were losing their fitness and 45 per cent worried that it would be hard to get back into the habit of sport and exercise after the pandemic. Many have lost confidence in their sporting ability (41 per cent) and many more are worried about being in large groups again (40 per cent).

The charity is calling for more recognition of the essential importance of sport and exercise for girls and increased guidance and support for teenage girls as they navigate their way back to activity and through the easing of restrictions.

Even before the pandemic, society was facing a mental health crisis among young people. By the age of 14 one in four girls report experiencing high levels of depressive symptoms compared to one in ten boys. Teenage girls value having a strong support network and the absence of socialising has hit them hard, even though girls are spending much more time online to stay connected to friends, family, and the wider world. Women in Sport’s research found that 70 per cent of teenage girls missed spending time with friends most during lockdown and 43 per cent said they felt lonely.

Participation in sport is known to improve both mental and physical health, to improve mood and self-esteem and to build life skills. Women in Sport is calling for more opportunities to be provided both in and out of school for girls to take part in sport and physical activity that meets their needs. As restrictions begin to ease schools, leisure providers and sports organisations should put girls at the heart of their programming. Women in Sport’s 8 Principles for Success offers guidance to ensure girls are motivated and excited by offers that meet their needs for enjoyment and physical connection.

“Society needs to wake up to the reality that teenage girls need sport and exercise as much as anyone. Girls have been denied access to sport and exercise for far too long.  The needs of girls are often ignored because when they are unfulfilled, unexpressed, and unhappy it is not necessarily society that bears the cost, but their own mental health,” says Stephanie Hilborne, CEO of Women in Sport.

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