Participation in physical activity by adolescent girls : a social-psychological and physical environmental approach
Physical activity in youth is an important public health issue and regular participation in physical activity can contribute to the enhancement of young people's physical, psychological, and social well-being. However, adolescent girls typically have lower levels of physical activity than boys and their rates of participation decline rapidly during this age period. This thesis presents four studies examining factors influencing adolescent girls' likelihood of being physically active, and reasons for this decline in physical activity across the teenage years. Study 1 is a systematic review of the literature of correlates of participation in physical activity for adolescent girls. Study 2 uses a qualitative approach to explore potential influences of adolescent girls' physical activity, and how physical activity might be made more attractive to these girls. Study 3 uses a quantitative approach to examine the role of selected socialpsychological and physical environmental factors in three different types of sport and physical activity. Study 4 presents six case, studies examining in greater depth some of the ways in which social-psychological factors can impact on physical activity decisions. Overall findings suggest that aspects of the physical environment can be influential to particular activity types; this is an under-researched area and attempts should be made to further examine girls' perceptions of their environment so that safe and attractive provisions can be made. These attempts should be specific to particular activity types to enable the best possible understanding of potential environmental. Participation in organised sport also appears to account for differences in overall physical activity levels, and it is proposed that more gender-specific organised sport should be made available. Findings in relation to significant others indicate that parental support and encouragement may be more influential than parental role modelling, while the role of friends changes across the teenage years. Here, education programmes for whole families and interventions designed to change behaviour across groups of friends are recommended. Finally, self-presentational concerns appear to be related to actual body size and can serve to either increase or decrease physical activity participation. It is proposed that activities should be offered that emphasise fun and enjoyment, de-emphasise the importance of physical appearance, and stress that physical activity is equally acceptable across individuals of all shapes and sizes.