Epidemic is probably a little too dramatic but a new study from the Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota has found that there has been a decrease in the last ten years in the physical activity levels of girls.
Not good news. (But an excellent example to file away for future pedagogical purposes to illustrate the problem with the modern notion of progress as well as the limits of Title IX and the current models of sport in this country.)
The results mention the impediments that still exist for girls including race and class issues as well gender stereotypes that discourage participation or certain types of participation.
I think all of these things are culprits and I also see the move toward more organized youth sports programs and specialization at a young age as major issues that need to be addressed now.
Several years ago I was involved in project that funded, aided, and researched sport and physical activity programs for low-income and minority girls in Boston. There was a mix of traditional sport programs like soccer, tennis, and gymnastics but there were also programs that introduced girls to a number of activities including things like dance, aerobics, and jump rope. They offered a more holistic approach to physical activity and one that often included information on making healthier life choices. I don't think I appreciated these programs as much as I should have at that time. I didn't find them inferior to the programs that were teaching values and providing opportunities through sports. But I didn't see their intrinsic value in providing ways in which girls can sustain physical activity outside of an organized program. Because funding doesn't always last; facilities--especially in low-income areas--disappear. And I did not value, as much as I should have at the time, the alternatives they provided and the very large need for such alternatives in a society in which sports programs are more and more dominated by a competitive, performance-oriented ethic and thus limit access because of social, cultural, and economic factors.