Cambridge study says school uniforms may impede child activity

Posted: 16th February 2024

Children who wear school uniforms may be less physically active, a global study has suggested.

Academics from Cambridge University say uniforms might be a “barrier” to activity, with primary-aged girls particularly affected.

The researcher who led the study said schools should consider whether “specific characteristics” of a uniform restricted “opportunities”.

They said the new evidence could support decision-making about uniforms.

The team analysed data on the “physical activity levels” of more than a million youngsters aged five to 17 in 135 countries, including Britain.

They combined the results with data on how common the use of school uniforms was in those countries.

A university spokesman said the study found that in countries where a majority of schools required students to wear uniforms, fewer young people tended to meet the 60 minutes of physical activity per day recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Researchers said results did not “definitively prove” that school uniforms limited children’s physical activity and “causation” could not be inferred.

“Regardless of uniform policies, across most countries fewer girls than boys reach those recommended exercise levels,” the spokesman said.

“Among primary school students, however, the difference in activity between girls and boys was found to be wider in countries where most schools mandated uniforms.

“The same result was not found in secondary school-aged students.”

‘New evidence’

Authors suggested that younger children might get more “incidental exercise” throughout the school day than older students, through activities such as running climbing during breaks.

“Schools often prefer to use uniforms for various reasons,” said Mairead Ryan, a researcher at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education and Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, who led the study.

“We are not trying to suggest a blanket ban on them, but to present new evidence to support decision-making.

“School communities could consider design, and whether specific characteristics of a uniform might either encourage or restrict any opportunities for physical activity across the day.”

She said the study confirmed that most children and adolescents were not meeting WHO recommendations, especially girls.

Researchers said there was already evidence that girls felt less comfortable in participating in active play if they were wearing certain types of clothing.

“Girls might feel less confident about doing things like cartwheels and tumbles in the playground, or riding a bike on a windy day, if they are wearing a skirt or dress,” Esther van Sluijs, another member of the research team, said.

“Social norms and expectations tend to influence what they feel they can do in these clothes,” Dr van Sluijs added.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to promoting physical health, that’s a problem.”

Source: Cambridge study says school uniforms may impede child activity – BBC News

Categories: News