Teenage girls are losing out to boys in the fitness race
Teenage girls are being sidelined as boys race ahead of them in the fitness stakes.
The big gender gap now means that boys are 42pc fitter than girls by the time they reach fourth year in secondary school.
The exercise divide widens as teenage boys and girls get older, the findings of the Health Schools Fitness Challenge have revealed.
When they both start secondary school the fitness split is at around 32pc in favour of boys.
The old-style method of teaching PE in school may be partly to blame, with many feigning illness to dodge togging out.
Despite role models like boxer Katie Taylor, soccer star Stephanie Roche and camogie champion Anna Geary, fewer girls take part in sport as they get older.
"Numerous reasons have been put forward to explain this," Dr Kate Kirby, head of performance psychology at the Irish Institute of Sport, said.
"It includes losing interest, limited time, perceived lack of competence in competitive settings and fear of appearing uncool and unfeminine."
She was commenting as the firm trend of girls lagging behind boys emerged in the national competition, organised by Irish Life Health.
Nearly 23,000 students, from more than a quarter of all secondary schools, took part in the fitness challenge.
Niall Moyna of the Centre for Preventive Medicine in Dublin City University, who oversaw the programme, said: "Any form of physical exercise is better than none."
He called for schools to move away from the "rigidity of the current PE curriculum".
They should switch to short periods of physical activity instead which encourage the older pupils, particularly girls, to stay active.
A survey of PE teachers carried out as part of the event found 96pc believe their students "fake reasons" to avoid PE class.
They said the main excuse from teenagers for not exercising is that they are not "feeling well".
The next most popular reason to duck out of PE is that they have forgotten their gear.
Nearly three-quarters of PE teachers said they believe that students simply are not interested in exercise and want to skip PE.
Dr Moyna said the new PE curriculum for Junior Cert is a step in the right direction and marks a "paradigm shift".
"It 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," he said.
"Exercise should be viewed as medicine."
Cork camogie star Ashling Thompson said she was shocked to hear of falling fitness levels in girls and pointed out for her "sport was always a lifeline".
"It's even been proven there's a positive link between doing well at school and exercise," she said.
The schools judged the fittest were Presentation School, Milltown, in Kerry, which won the mixed category. The top boys school was St Macartan's College, Monaghan.
The all-girls school that came out on top was Mount Anville School in Dublin.
They were among the prize-winners at a ceremony in Croke Park.
The competition has allowed a new fitness standard to be developed for teenage school pupils to evaluate and rank how well they can perform, according to age and gender.