Sporty girls have better body image confidence

Research on teenage girls in Ireland has found worrying levels of body confidence and mental health issues among those who do not play sport.

Geraldine McLaughlin of Donegal, Sarah Rowe of Mayo, Jess O'Shea of Cork, and Sinéad Goldrick of Dublin. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The research found that there is a clear gap in encouragement to play sports between girls and boys, and parents are more likely to try to stop their sons quitting than their daughters.

One in two girls will give up sport by the time they are 14, and 47% of them said their main reason for quitting was that their friends were not playing.

Fewer boys (40%) tend to drop out and significantly later (during third-level college).

The research, commissioned by Lidl and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA), confirmed many of the global trends about young women and sport but this is is the first time hard data about girls and parents has been collected in Ireland.

It found that Gaelic football was the most popular team sport amongst the girls. It was played by 60% of those surveyed, followed by 28% camogie, 21% soccer and 11% in both basketball and swimming.

Irish high jump record-holder Deirdre Ryan, head of corporate social responsibility with Lidl, said: “It really saddened me to see 76% of the females involved felt that girls give up sport because they’re not encouraged.

“Any time I felt like giving up my parents encouraged me, not just as an athlete but because there are so many great transferable life skills to learn in sport. I really feel we need to get that message out there.”

The survey sample of 800 included 129 girls in the 12-17 age-bracket, 155 parents and 500 adults (aged 18-44, 60% women).

Almost two-thirds of teenage girls experienced peer pressure and, of those, 78% said the biggest was ‘to look a certain way’. Given a list of eight celebrities they aspire to be like, actress Emma Watson (72%), reality TV star Kendall Jenner (53%), and actress Saoirse Ronan (36%) came out top. Even girls who play sport only ranked sailor Annalise Murphy and boxer Katie Taylor at 20%.

A worrying number of girls who do not play sport (15%) rated themselves between 0-3 on a scale of body confidence and another 42% of those ranked their body confidence below six out of 10.

The statistics were even starker for mental health. A third of teenage girls who don’t play sport rated themselves 0-3 on the scale of mental well-being.

More than a quarter of girls and women aged 18-45 who do not play sport said they felt periodically depressed and 26% felt ‘over-whelmed weekly’. Girls and women who play sport reported being significantly more happy, more supported, less lonely and less depressed.

Body confidence and the ability to cope with pressure was also substantially higher for girls and women who played sport.


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