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A new approach to PE could lead to much greater participation and improve young people's physical and emotional health.

More than half of teenage girls and a third of boys are storing up health problems for the future by failing to get just one hour of "moderate physical activity" a day. The definition includes simple, everyday - though not always teen-friendly - activities, such as walking, gardening and cleaning the house.

In a recent survery, a school in a deprived area (which cannot be named) has transformed PE participation from almost non-existent to "a situation where only three to four students remained as non-participants". The secret was not physical, but mental and social. The problem, the researchers found, had little to do with TV and computer games. The culprits were body image, excessive competition and adult ideas imposed on kids.

When the young people were given more say, they made changes in the PE environment. These included choice in what to wear, soap dispensers in changing rooms, and girl-friendly activities such as dance.

Taking part counts. Health Education Research, 21(6), pp 872-883. Fiona Brooks and Josefine Magnusson, (2006)

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