Irish boys are 42 per cent fitter than girls in a fitness battle of the sexes

Irish boys are 42 per cent fitter than girls a new study has showed with some female students feeling PE is “uncool” or “unfeminine”.

More than 12,000 schools across the country took part in the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge – which found 96 per cent of PE teachers felt their students were making excuses to avoid class.

But by far the most shocking finding in this survey was the fact that young girls are lagging behind boys in physical activity.

And the gender gap widens as boys and girls progress through school.  In fourth year, boys are 42% fitter than girls, as opposed to first year when boys are 32% fitter than girls.

22,764 students took part in the study (10,935 girls and 11,828 boys), more than in any previous year.

And during the challenge, students also experienced a significant improvement in their fitness levels after just six weeks of exercise training, with first year boys (+11%) and fourth year girls (+14%) showing the biggest improvement levels overall.

Girls are taking a back seat away from physical exercise
Girls are taking a back seat away from physical exercise

The data from the challenge, which is in its fifth year, has led to the creation of the first ever fitness norms for Irish secondary school children.

This will allow Irish school children to evaluate and rank their own fitness levels in relation to age and gender specific normative data.

Dr Kate Kirby, head of performance psychology at the Irish Institute of Sport said: “The physical, psychological and social benefits of sport and exercise have been well documented, but unfortunately as this Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge shows, we still see reduced participation levels in Irish adolescent girls compared to boys.

“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”.

“The findings of this initiative prove that significant fitness gains can be made in a relatively short period of time, thereby increasing the schoolgirls’ confidence and motivation.

“The project has also given the participants the opportunity to establish ongoing personal, specific and measurable fitness goals, which are critical to maintaining continued participation. Some additional considerations that may reduce female adolescent drop out from sport include the provision of single-sex physical activities, de-emphasising competition and increasing opportunities for social interaction within the sporting environment.

“Finally, the benefit of promoting positive athletic female role models cannot be underestimated.”

Are boys born to want to be more physically active?
Are boys born to want to be more physically active?

The 2016 winning schools came from Monaghan, Kerry and Dublin and Mathew O’Leary from Bunclody Vocational School, Wexford and Louise O’Dowd from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, Kerry were awarded overall fittest boy and girl in the programme.

The programme was overseen by Professor Niall Moyna in the Centre for Preventive Medicine, Dublin City University with a total of 126,162 secondary school students taking part from 2012 – 2016.

The challenge was created with the aim of making physical fitness a national priority and to encourage young people to be proactive in adopting a healthier and more active lifestyle.

Prof Moyna said:  “Any form of physical activity is better than none. We should move away from the rigidity of the current PE curriculum to short periods of physical activity that encourage senior cycle students, particularly girls to stay active.

“The new Junior Certificate PE curriculum is a paradigm shift that is long overdue and, if properly resourced, has the potential to have a profoundly positive impact on the current and future health of Irish teenagers.”


You can download the full report here:



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