A group of teenagers from different backgrounds playing school netball

Research Report: Gender Gap – Attitudes Towards Physical Activity in Teenagers


Girls aged 11-18 years old exercise less regularly and for less time than boys. Only 8% of girls meet the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation that young people aged 5 -18 should do 60 minutes of physical activity every day. The figure for boys is double that at 16%. Understanding young people’s attitudes, motivations, barriers and behaviours is the key to increasing their participation in sport and physical activity.

In 2016 Women in Sport and the Youth Sport Trust surveyed over 26,000 students from 138 secondary schools in England and Northern Ireland which had signed up to the Girls Active programme. For the first time, we included boys in our quantitative research, to help us understand the differences and similarities in activity levels and attitudes across both genders (21,000 girls and 5,000 boys).

The Girls Active programme developed by the Youth Sport Trust and delivered in partnership with This Girl Can and Women in Sport, involves girls in the design and delivery of PE and physical activity in secondary schools. The programme is already having a huge impact. So far 50,000 girls have been reached in 200 schools with a further 200 soon to join programme. Girls are consulted and given leadership positions which give them influence over the PE curriculum, making it more appealing and relevant to their everyday lives.

Key findings

  • Secondary school aged boys (11-16) are happier with the amount of physical activity they take part in and enjoy it more than girls (71% of boys compared to 56% of girls).
  • Pressure of school work and low confidence are much bigger barriers to taking part in physical activity for girls than boys (24% of girls compared to 13% of boys).
  • Satisfaction with body image for girls declines with age. One in four are unhappy with their body image at 11-13 years and this figure increases to one in three by the time they reach 14-16 years.
  • Girls do not see the relevance of the skills they learn in PE to their lives (45% of girls compared to 60% of boys).
  • 78 %

    of 14-16 year olds understand that sport is important

    Women in Sport

  • Only 28 %

    of 14-16 year olds enjoy taking part in physical exercise

    Women in Sport


The following recommendations are suggested for schools as a way to engage girls in PE and physical activity. These recommendations are based on the principles of the Girls Active programme.

  1. Make PE and physical activity relevant to girls’ lives.
  2. Empower girls through involving them in design and delivery of PE and physical activities.
  3.  Develop role models by using girls as positive influencers and advocates with their peer
  4. Place developing self-confidence at the heart of PE and physical activity.
  5. Recognise the power of friends to drive progress.
  6. Take a long-term approach to engaging girls.

Download the report