Breast Concerns and the Impact on Girls' Physical Activity

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Exercise has a number of benefits, including improved cardiovascular fitness, a decrease in Type II diabetes, and a reduced risk of certain cancers. Researchers have also observed cognitive benefits. Finally, there is growing evidence showing that sport and physical activity can help reduce anxiety and depressive symptomology.

Despite these benefits, a sizable portion of girls are likely to stop participating in sport and physical activity once they hit puberty. In fact, only 12 percent of girls in the UK age 14 or older achieve the recommended levels of physical activity. Similar patterns are apparent in the US, where girls’ participation in sport lags behind that of boys’.

Joanna Scurr, of the University of Portsmouth, and her colleagues recently examined a potential reason for the difference: breasts. Specifically, they investigated whether breast-specific concerns served as barriers for girls’ sport engagement.

They distributed surveys to girls in the UK, collecting information about their demographics, sport participation, breast characteristics, breast-specific concerns in sport, their breast knowledge, and their views on breast education.

Over 2,000 girls age 11 to 18 completed the questionnaire. The researchers found that for nearly half of the participants, breasts had some effect on their exercise. An even higher percentage (73 percent) reported concerns about their breasts and how they would impact their sport participation. The effects were strongest for girls with large breasts and for girls age 13-14. Note, this is the age when the reduction in sport participation occurs.

The researchers argued that education was the key. In fact, the study participants did, too, as 87 percent wanted more breast-related education. Providing such feedback will not only better inform the girls about their bodies, but might also encourage them to continue in their sport and physical activity pursuits.