School uniforms can make parents’ lives easier. But can they negatively impact kids’ health?
A study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science suggests that school uniform policies could serve as a barrier to children getting daily physical activity.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. analyzed the physical activity data from more than one million young people between 5 and 17 years old in 135 countries via an online survey.
They found that in countries where school uniforms are more prevalent, fewer kids get an average of 60 minutes of daily physical activity, according to a press release from the university.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an average of 60 minutes of at least moderate-intensity activity per day for youth between 5 and 17 years old.
In countries where a majority of schools required uniforms, 16% of students met that threshold, the study found.
In countries where uniforms were not as prevalent, 19.5% of students got the recommended amount of activity.
“Social norms and expectations tend to influence what they feel they can do in these clothes.”
Female students were found to get less exercise than males, the study found.
“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,” said senior author Dr. Esther van Sluijs, MRC investigator, in the release.
“Social norms and expectations tend to influence what they feel they can do in these clothes. Unfortunately, when it comes to promoting physical health, that’s a problem.”
While the study established an association, the researchers noted that “causation cannot be inferred” between the uniforms and the reduced activity.
Smaller studies in the past have suggested this effect.
Based on the findings, the researchers are calling for further research into a possible link between uniforms and more sedentary behavior.
“We now need more information to build on these findings, considering factors like how long students wear their uniforms for after school, whether this varies depending on their background, and how broader gendered clothing norms may impact their activity,” said Dr. Mairead Ryan, a researcher at the Faculty of Education and Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, in the release.
The goal is not to ban uniforms altogether, she said.
“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,” suggested Ryan.
“Working together for the betterment of children both physically and academically is the goal, at both home and school.”
Fox News Digital reached out to the Cambridge researchers requesting additional comment.
Dr. Nadia Teymoorian, a family therapist from the Moment of Clarity Health Center in California, was not involved in the study but offered her reaction.
School uniforms can offer some benefits for families, she noted — primarily a decrease in social bullying, reduced costs for parents and less peer pressure.
“What was not a focus [of the research] was the dynamics of the region of the study,” she told Fox News Digital.
“I have witnessed over the years that in areas where it is warmer [California or Florida], children participate in a number of physical activities. The limitations on physical participation could have much to do with weather, finances and activities provided by the school districts themselves.”
Many charter schools (independent, government-funded schools) may not have physical activity programs and may require the students’ families to incorporate activity, Teymoorian noted.
“Charter schools focus on academics more so than physical activity,” she said.
The expert suggested that families should make an effort to participate in physical activities that are documented to support better health.
“I would like to see a study on the concept of incorporating school and home as a team effort on better health and wellness,” she said.
“Working together for the betterment of children both physically and academically is the goal, both at home and at school.”
“Helping your child to find the right activity for their physical needs, personality and preferences at an early age is key to making exercise an enjoyable, lifelong habit.”
Dr. Marianna Nicoletta Gentile, a pediatric endocrinologist at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, was also not involved in the research, but emphasized the importance of regular exercise for youth.
“Regular physical activity can help children and adolescents on many levels, including building strong bones and muscles, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of many health conditions, such as heart disease and depression,” she told Fox News Digital.
“Helping your child to find the right activity for their physical needs, personality and preferences at an early age is key to making exercise an enjoyable, lifelong habit,” Gentile added.