Recently published results from the 2016 Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge revealed a significant gender gap between the fitness levels of teenagers.
What researchers found to be of concern was that as teenagers transition through secondary school the gap widens. In first year boys are 32% fitter than girls. This increases to 41% in fourth year.
Furthermore, researchers found that a significant portion of girls drop out of sports as they transition through education due to a number of reasons such as social and academic pressure.
These findings are unsettling. If adolescent girls fall into unhealthy lifestyles at a young age, it will be harder to reverse unhealthy habits later in life.
In light of such research, I believe we need to encourage girls, both at home and in schools, to continue playing sports throughout their years in education. They need to be informed of the long term benefits sport can provide. Not only in terms of physical health, but also with regards to mental health.
I have mentioned the issues of health and obesity numerous times in this House because I believe they are issues that Ireland is struggling to address at the rate that is needed.
Therefore, we need to harness the information from studies, such as the Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge, in order to tackle the rising levels of obesity and related diseases here in Ireland.
We need more thorough and robust investigations to understand why girls are dropping out of sport at a young age. Furthermore, we need provisions to encourage them to maintain healthy levels of sport and exercise throughout their school years.