Irish boys much fitter than girls

Research shows that the gender gap widens as boys and girls progress through school

Irish girls at secondary school level are less likely than boys to get their recommended amount of fitness, according to new research released by the Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge.

The challenge, which was initiated in 2012, involves showing students simple fitness steps with the aim of improving their health and fitness levels over a six-week period.

Over one-quarter of secondary school students took part in the 2016 challenge - 10,935 girls and 11,828 boys, a total of more than 22,700 teenagers.

The research gathered by Irish Life Health and overseen by Professor Niall Moyna, Head of the School of Health and Human Performance at DCU, found that girls are less likely than boys to achieve the minimum daily physical activity recommendations for optimal health.

The gap between genders widens as students get older, showing that in 1st year, boys are 32% fitter than girls, but by 4th year, they are 42% fitter.

Reduced participation levels in fitness excercises by girls explains the gap in levels of fitness, with Dr Kate Kirby, Head of Performance Psychology at the Irish Institute of Sport saying that:

"Numerous reasons have been put forward to explain this including losing interest, limited time, perceived lack of competence in competitive settings and fear of appearing ‘uncool' or ‘unfeminine'".

Dr Kirby believes that more things can be done to stop girls from dropping out of sport, including the provision of single-sex physical activities and placing less emphasis on competition.

"Also, the benefit of promoting positive athletic female role models cannot be underestimated," she added.

Irish Life Health also surveyed PE teachers to get their views on their students’ participation in PE - with 96% of teachers believing that their students use fake excuses to get out of PE class.

The most used excuse is students saying they aren’t feeling well (63%), followed by students saying they forgot their sports gear (23%).

Studies have shown that physical fitness can greatly benefit academic performance alongside being essential for long-term health.

The School Fitness Challenge was created to make increasing physical activity a national priority, and encourage young people to adopt a more active lifestyle.

Ireland's fittest schools in 2016 were:

- Mixed - Presentation Secondary School, Milltown in Kerry
- Boys only - St Macartan's College, Monaghan
- Girls only - Mount Anville Secondary School, Dublin.

Further information on the Challenge can be found here.