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Gender balance in sport vital to improving public health

September 24, 2016

Increasing women’s participation in sport is important for improving physical health globally, but also offers significant benefits for mental, social, political and economic health.

That observation has been made by three University of Queensland School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences researchers, led by Professor Wendy Brown.

Commenting on the team’s research, Professor Brown explains “of the 146 countries for which we have data, 137 have a male population which is more active than the female population.

“What is not considered though is that men are much more likely to experience activity in a leisure setting, whereas women will experience activity through occupational or family chores.

“Gender differences are not confined solely to low and middle income countries.

“Some of the highest levels of physical inactivity for women occur in affluent Middle Eastern countries.”

Professor Brown’s commentary for leading medical journal The Lancet was made with UQ colleagues Dr Tracy Kolbe-Alexander and Gregore Mielke, a visiting PhD Scholar from Brazil.

They noted that the 2012 London Olympic Games was the first Olympics to have women competing for every nation represented.

The percentage of total athletes who were female in London was 44.2%, a marked improvement on the 2.2% of Olympians who were female prior to 1920.

For the first time, Australia’s 2016 Rio Olympic squad was evenly split between genders.

However, Professor Brow added “even in high-income countries where there are fewer cultural barriers to female participation, there are still surprisingly high differences.

“In Australia women are still about 30% less likely than men to meet physical activity guidelines.”

Earlier this year the Australian Government launched the 'Girls make your move' campaign, to encourage greater participation of girls and women in sport.

The July issue of The Lancet contained four major research publications on physical inactivity to coincide with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – with two of the papers featuring UQ researchers.

Professor Brown also contributed to a study on the amount of physical exercise needed to offset the effects of prolonged sitting.

Dr Kolbe-Alexander contributed to research on the global economic cost of non-communicable diseases from physical inactivity.

Click here to view details of the July 2016 issue of The Lancet.

Images: The Bike Network (top) and the Australian Rugby Union (below).

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