Young Girls, Boys Can Compete on Equal Level

Analysis of nearly 2 million swim records found little or no difference until age 13

FRIDAY, June 1, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Girls can compete with boys in sports on an equal footing in certain age groups, a new study finds.

Indiana University researchers analyzed USA Swimming data on 1.9 million freestyle swims (for 50 yards) by male and female swimmers, ages 6 to 19, who competed from 2005 to 2010.

No differences existed in swim performance when children were younger than 8, and little difference in 11- and 12-year-olds. Boys began to be faster than girls beginning at about age 13, when boys typically experience spurts in height, weight and strength.

The researchers focused on the 50-yard freestyle because the swimmers' times were less influenced by training and more likely to be affected by muscle function.

The findings were scheduled for presentation Thursday at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting in San Francisco. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Boys and girls rarely compete against each other in U.S. schools. Although not suggesting that they should compete against each other, these findings suggest they could at certain ages, said study author Joel Stager, a professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at the university.

"It's the whole perception that girls can't compete fairly with boys," he said in a university news release. "[But] at certain ages, they can."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and exercise.

SOURCE: Indiana University, news release, May 31, 2012
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