Background: To assess physical activity and physiological fitness parameters among six year old children and to determine whether there were any significant gender differences.
Design & setting: comparative study of a representative sample of boys and girls in school and at home.
Participants: 569 children (305 boys and 264 girls) selected randomly from a total of 6153 registered in the 1st grade in 1992 on the island of Crete.
Measures: assessment of physical activity was based on observational methods involving teachers and parents. Cardiorespiratory fitness was estimated by performance on the 20 meter Shuttle Run Test (20mSRT). BMI, skinfold thickness, Midarm Muscle Circumference (MMC) and hemoglobin were also measured.
Results: Both sexes were found to spend a very small proportion of their leisure time in Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activities (MVPA). More boys engaged in MVPA than girls at school and at home, but more girls were involved in physical activity-related lessons and classes out of school. Among the physiological fitness parameters, significant gender differences were found only for MMC. No significant gender difference was found in performance on the 20mSRT.
Conclusions: The results indicate that in this culture stereotypic sex preferences in physical activity begin at a very young age, and that this differentiation cannot be attributed to gender differences in cardiorespiratory fitness. The social, environmental and possibly psychological parameters involved have implications for Health Educators and Physical Education Instructors in the appropriate targeting of physical activity promotion programs among young children.