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Girls and Sports. Only 18% of high school girls compared to 37% of boys meet national physical activity benchmarks.1 These gender differences in physical activity form patterns in youth that last into adulthood.2-4 .For example, men are typically more physically active and more likely to engage in exercise than women. Also, gender differences in physical activity contribute directly to lower aerobic fitness in both girls and women, including higher rates of unhealthy weight, and obesity-related health consequences including diabetes, liver and kidney issues, asthma, arthritis, lower sleep quality, depression and anxiety.5,6Afterschool programs, and Parks Departments in particular, can play an important role in reducing disparities, and promoting health and fitness in all youth.7,8

Fit2PlayTM is a park-based afterschool health and wellness program, provides physical activity to youth ages 6-14 afterschool each day at 31 parks throughout Miami-Dade County.

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The Fit2PlayTM program was designed by a team of MDPROS professionals and University of Miami faculty. It is a daily afterschool park-based program (Monday-Friday, 2pm-6pm) and includes 60 minutes of physical activity incorporating multiple sports (soccer, kickball, flag football) and activities from Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK), a play- and evidenced-based national recreation program for children with a focus on developing and improving motor skills, movement knowledge, social and personal skills.

The program also includes weekly nutrition education lessons based on EmpowerMe4Life, a health and wellness curriculum aligned with the National Health Education Standards and the American Heart Association’s scientific recommendations in promoting heart-healthy lifestyles.

Fit2PlayTM programming is implemented by Miami-Dade County park coaches, who are hired with a health and wellness training and/or education-specific background with at least a high school degree. Participants are divided into younger (6-9 years old) and older (10-14 years old) age groups regardless of weight status and coaches choose daily age-appropriate SPARK and other physical activities for each group. 

Youth who participate in Fit2PlayTM have the option to participate in a fitness battery at the start and end of the school year to measure their progress while in the program.

Parks research specialists examined data from 2,129 youth who enrolled in Fit2PlayTM for up to three consecutive years from 2010-2016.  Results showed that fitness improved for all youth, and that the longer they participated in the program, the better their cardiovascular health and fitness became.

The researchers found statistically significant improvements for both boys and girls in the Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run (PACER) scores, 400 meter run test times, and number of push-ups. Number of sit-ups also showed statistically significant improvements in girls only. Also, girls showed the most improved fitness after up to three years of Fit2PlayTM.

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For example, girls improved 8%, 14% and 24% in 400 meter run times after one, two, and three years of the program.  In comparison, boys’ run times improved 9%, 9%, and 14% for one, two and three years of the program.

These findings show that after school physical activity programs like Fit2PlayTM can improve fitness in all youth, and particularly girls.  

Miami-Dade Parks plays an important role in our youth’s health and fitness, and can make important contributions to reducing gender disparities throughout the community.  Fit2PlayTM  helps all youth, and particularly girls, learn important health-promoting skills to last a lifetime.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Youth risk behavior Surveillance—United States, 2013. MMWR. 2014 Jun 13;63(4):1-168.
  2. Trost SG, Pate RR, Dowda M, Saunders R, Ward DS, Felton G. Gender differences in physical activity and determinants of physical activity in rural fifth grade children. J Sch Health. 1996;66(4):145-150.
  3. Falk B, Cohen Y, Lustig G, Lander Y, Yaaron M, Ayalon J. Tracking of physical fitness components in boys and girls from the second to sixth grades. Am J Hum Biol. 2001;13(1):65-70.
  4. Cumming SP, Standage M, Gillison F, Malina RM. Sex differences in exercise behavior during adolescence: Is biological maturation a confounding factor? Journal of Adolescent Health. 2008;42(5):480-485.
  5. Kelly S, A., Barlow E, S., Rao H, G., et al. Severe Obesity in Children and Adolescents: Identification, Associated Health Risks, and Treatment Approaches: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2013;128(15):1689-1712.
  6. Laitinen TT, Pahkala K, Magnussen CG, et al. Ideal cardiovascular health in childhood and cardiometabolic outcomes in adulthood: the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. Circulation 2012;125(16):1971.
  7. Messiah SE, D’Agostino EM, Hansen E, Mathew MS, Okeke D, Nardi M, Kardys J, Arheart KL. Longitudinal Impact of a Park-Based Afterschool Healthy Weight Program on Modifiable Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Youth. Journal of Community Health. (2018) 43(1): 103-116.
  8. D’Agostino EM, Patel HH, Hansen E, et al. Longitudinal analysis of cardiovascular disease risk profile in neighbourhood poverty subgroups: 5-year results from an afterschool fitness programme in the USA.Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2017


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