Creating school environments that support student physical activity (PA) is a key recommendation of policy-makers to increase youth PA. Given males are more active than females at all ages, it has been suggested that investigating gender differences in the features of the environment that associate with PA may help to inform gender-focused PA interventions and reduce the gender disparity in PA. The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to explore gender differences in the association between factors of the school environment and students' time spent in PA.
Among a sample of 10781 female and 10973 male students in grades 9 to 12 from 76 secondary schools in Ontario, Canada, student- and school-level survey PA data were collected and supplemented with GIS-derived measures of the built environment within 1-km buffers of the 76 schools.
Findings from the present study revealed significant differences in the time male and female students spent in PA as well as in some of the school- and student-level factors associated with PA. Results of the gender-specific multilevel analyses indicate schools should consider providing an alternate room for PA, especially for providing flexibility activities directed at female students. Schools should also consider offering daily physical education programming to male students in senior grades and providing PA promotion initiatives targeting obese male students.
Although most variation in male and female students' time spent in PA lies between students within schools, there is sufficient between-school variation to be of interest to practitioners and policy-makers. More research investigating gender differentials in environment factors associated with youth PA are warranted.