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More than 80% of teenagers who go to school worldwide fail to comply with the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) to do at least one hour of physical activity a day , a figure that increases among girls ( 85%) compared to boys (78%).

It is the main conclusion of a study by researchers from WHO, Imperial College London and the University of Western Australia. The work, published in The Lance Child & Adolescent Health magazine, reflects global trends in physical activity with data from 1.6 million teenagers aged 11 to 17.

The work, which covers 146 countries with information between 2001 and 2016, indicates that girls are less active than boys in all countries except four: Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan and Zambia.

The difference in the proportion of children who meet the recommendations of daily physical activity exceeded 10 percentage points in almost one in three countries in 2016, specifically in 43 of 146 (29% of the total), with the biggest mismatches in United States and Ireland (more than 15 percentage points). Most of the nations studied (107 of 146, 73%) saw this gender gap grow between 2001 and 2016.

The authors point out that the levels of lack of physical activity are extremely high and compromise the current and future health of adolescents .

The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle during adolescence include improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and cardiometabolic health, and positive effects on weight. There is also increasing evidence that physical activity has a positive impact on cognitive development and socialization. Current evidence suggests that many of these benefits continue until adulthood.

2016 still photo

The study is based on school surveys on levels of physical activity among adolescents aged 11 to 17 years. The assessment included time spent on active play, recreation and sports, active household chores, walking and cycling or other types of active transportation, physical education and planned exercise.

In 2016, the Philippines was the country with the most insufficient physical activity among boys (93%) and South Korea among girls (97%) and both sexes combined (94%). On the contrary, the best percentages correspond to Bangladesh (63% in children, 69% in children and 66% in both sexes).

Some of the lowest levels of inactivity among children are in Bangladesh (63%), India (72%) and the United States (64%). Experts believe that in the first two cases they may be due to the strong implementation of national sports such as cricket, and the explanation in the North American country is in a good physical education in schools, a generalized sports coverage in the media and a good availability of sports clubs in ice hockey, football, basketball or baseball.

Daughters of guerrillas back from school in Tierra Grata, in Colombia.SALUD HERNÁNDEZ MORA

Regarding girls, the lowest levels of insufficient activity were found in Bangladesh and India, due to social factors such as the increase in household chores at home.

Trends between 2001 and 2016

Insufficient physical activity decreased slightly in boys between 2011 and 2016 (from 80% to 78%), but there were hardly any changes over time in girls (remained around 85%).

The countries with the most reductions in lack of physical activity among children in the period analyzed are Bangladesh (73% to 63%), Singapore (78% to 70%), Thailand (78% to 70%), Benin ( from 79% to 71%), Ireland (from 71% to 64%) and the United States (from 71% to 64%). This circumstance was less important among girls, with decreases of two percentage points in Singapore (from 85% to 83%) and increases of one point in Afghanistan (from 87% to 88%).

Leanne Riley, from WHO and co-author of the study, considered "worrying" that girls are less active than boys , so she advocated generating "more opportunities" in order to "attract and maintain their participation in physical activity during adolescence and adulthood. "

To increase the physical activity of young people, governments must identify and address the many causes and inequities (social, economic, cultural, technological and environmental) that can perpetuate differences between boys and girls, according to the authors.

"Countries must develop or update their policies and allocate the necessary resources to increase physical activity," said Fiona Bull, WHO and co-author of the research, who added: "Policies should increase all forms of physical activity, including through physical education that develops physical literacy, more sports, active games and recreation opportunities, as well as providing safe environments for young people to walk and cycle independently. "

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