How having to wear skimpy PE shorts and skirts could be turning teenagers off sport for life.
Schools in Wales should revise their policy on PE kits so that self-conscious teenagers associate sport with pleasure, a health leader said yesterday. Some young people avoid PE in school because they are too embarrassed to wear shorts or a gym skirt, in some cases because they believe they are overweight or too thin.
One worried father said yesterday his teenage daughter hated her PE kit so much she sometimes asked for a letter to excuse her from lessons.
At the same time, youngsters are jumping at the chance to join outdoor-pursuits clubs, where they exercise in loose-fitting clothes which hide their body shapes.
Dr Paul Walker, chairman of the Welsh Public Health Association, said it was important young people felt good about participating in sports, otherwise they could be turned off exercise for life.
'It's a pity that kids have this obsession with their body image,' he said. 'If PE is something they have to do, rather than something they enjoy, as soon as they leave school they will never do anything active again.'
He urged schools to sacrifice PE traditions to maximise participation and enjoyment.
'It's for the schools and their governors to look at their policies and recognise that the epidemic of overweight and obesity is a real public health challenge. They should go for anything that encourages pupils to be more active.
'Being liberal with what the pupils wear is hardly a big deal.'
One father told the Western Mail yesterday how his daughter, who is 15 and has a 'normal' body shape, loathed PE at her school in Gwynedd.
'Their uniform policy is strict to rigidity,' said the father, who asked not to be named to protect his daughter's anonymity.
'My daughter is very self- conscious. It's probably quite natural for that age group. She hates PE with a vengeance, and quite a lot of that is that she has to wear clothes that reveal things she wouldn't normally have to.
'It does put them off, and if you put someone off PE aged 14 or 15 that can last for years after they leave school.'
He said the school should allow pupils to wear anything 'fit for purpose' for PE.
'I don't think there's a huge amount of flexibility in what they can wear. It's not just at her school. It's very old-fashioned.
'My daughter has been known to beg for a letter in the morning, signing her off a PE lesson for some vague reason like period pains.'
A spokeswoman for the Sports Council for Wales said, 'Factors such as clothing shouldn't be sidelined. Anything that breaks down the barriers and enhances the take- up on school sport can only be a good thing.'
She said research from Loughborough University had found large numbers of girls disliked PE at school because they were self-conscious about their bodies and disliked their PE kit.
The study showed girls' participation increased at schools which made PE more female- friendly. Allowing girls to wear clothing such as tracksuit bottoms had helped boost involvement.
Tudur Owen, secretary of Anglesey Adventure Club, said groups like his appealed to youngsters who wanted to exercise but disliked PE uniforms.
'Schools offer football, rugby and other team sports but some children with body dissatisfaction won't want to go out in shorts,' he said.
'Rock climbing is fine for them. They can wear comfortable and loose clothes.'
Becky Lang, of the Association for the Study of Obesity, said, 'There are kids who have an issue with their body shape - too thin or fat. Swimming is always an issue. 'A lot more schools now are open to tracksuits and jogging bottoms, which are more forgiving. Schools should be making sure kids wear clothes they're comfortable moving around in. 'Those who are large are going to want to wear loose-fitting clothes.' Gethin Davies, of teachers' union NASUWT Cymru, said many schools had relaxed their policies on PE kit but had less leeway than outdoor-pursuits clubs because they focused on team, rather than individual, activities.: Hoodies in the kit:Teachers at one Welsh school hit on a novel idea when they wanted to update their PE kit - they asked the pupils what they would like to wear. Gowerton School, Swansea, asked pupils for their views on a variety of clothing suitable for school sports lessons. The youngsters were asked to rate garments for comfort and cool appearance. Now the pupils have a PE kit they are happy to wear - including hooded tops.