The Role of Gender and Body Type in Children’s Fitness

Does body type have an effect on your physical capabilities? New research looks at gender and body type in children and may be able to help teachers design better P.E. programs.

With physical education programs being cut in many school across America and obesity rates rising, the impact of physical activity, or the lack of it, are becoming increasingly apparent. In an effort to help educators design more effective physical educatio program, a recent study in Portugal analyzed the difference in physical capabilities between boys and girls. An additional objective was to find whether body fat, level of physical activity, or somatotype (body type) was more influential on prepubescent children’s physical fitness level.1

The three components of body build are type, size, and composition. A system developed by W.H. Sheldon uses the terms ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph to describe the body build of an individual. An endomorph is usually classified by someone who has short arms and legs and a large amount of mass on their frame. They tend to have a lot of fat on their body. A mesomorph excels in strength, agility, and speed. They are medium to large structure and height, and they gain muscle easily. Mesomorphs also sustain low body fat levels and gain or lose weight easily. Ectomorphs are usually long, thin, and lack muscle. Ectomorphs have a hard time gaining muscle, and usually excel at endurance type sports.2

This newest study consisted of 312 prepubescent children (160 girls, 152 boys). There were tests performed to determine aerobic capacity (20 meter shuttle run), flexibility of the lower back and hamstrings (left and right sit reach), agility and coordination (9-14 meter shuttle run), general stability (flamingo balance), muscle strength and endurance (pull ups and pushups), explosive strength (standing broad jump and medicine ball throws), max isometric strength (handgrip strength), and anaerobic muscular power (performed on stairs).3

The results of the study showed that girls displayed higher average values of body fat percentage, and a higher occurrence of an endomorphic or ectomorph body type than the boys. Contrarily, the boys showed higher values in the mesomorph component and in all most levels of physical activity. The boys presented higher values in all selected tests except tests of balance and flexibility, where the girls scored better. Gender differences in the physical fitness were greatest in the explosive strength of upper and lower limbs, and smaller in the abdominal and upper limbs muscular endurance, and trunk extensor strength and flexibility, followed by speed and balance. This data suggests that body type has a significant influence on physical activity.4

Physical fitness programs can benefit from these findings in that it could help educators plan activities appropriate for each gender. Perhaps in schools where phsyical education has been severly cut back, teachers can still have an impact in the time they have and keep our next generation healthy and active.

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