IT IS the secret fear behind every PE class – the communal shower. Pupils are refusing to exert themselves in gym classes in order to avoid sweating and the necessity of stripping off to shower.
A study has found that more than half of secondary school boys and two-thirds of girls never shower after PE and are also found to be less active.
The paper in the European Journal Of Sports Sciences found that children may be deliberately holding back because they are frightened about being bullied and humiliated when undressing to shower.
Nearly 4,000 children took part in the study, from eight state secondary schools across Essex, covering urban, rural, affluent and deprived neighbourhoods and all had hot showers in male and female changing rooms. The researchers said children may be missing out on the health benefits of PE lessons because of anxiety about showers.
Dr Gavin Sandercock, who led the study, said: “We know that children aren’t getting enough physical activity because we have seen their fitness declining. If the unwillingness to shower is a barrier to working up a sweat or playing sport it’s something we need to tackle to promote activity at schools.”
The report found that those who did not shower were less active and, among girls, less fit. Just over one in two boys in the study said they never showered, about one in three said they did occasionally, and one in ten said they always had a shower after PE.
Two out of three girls said they never took a shower after a PE lesson, and one in four said they did sometimes, while about one in 13 said they always showered.
The paper also pointed out the importance of physical education in attaining positive levels of activity among the young. Children who reported doing physical activity with adults in their families were twice as likely to shower after a PE class. Those who came from poorer backgrounds were 40 per cent less likely to shower than those from less deprived backgrounds.
While the study did not examine the reasons behind these decisions, the study team said that concerns over showering among young people are “a potential barrier to intense, fitness-promoting exercise”.
Alison Oliver, of the Youth Sport Trust, said obstacles preventing young people taking part in PE were a real concern.
She said: “This research reinforces our own findings around the differences in participation levels between boys and girls.”
In response, Pamela Naylor from Public Health England said body image was an important factor when it came to showering after PE, but added this was just one of many factors affecting activity levels. She said: “Schools, workplaces and local authorities all have a role to play in shifting attitudes so that physical activity, and what comes with it, like sweating and the need for showering, is encouraged and accommodated.”