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New survey explores how periods impact girls' participation in school

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There are plenty of surveys out there on what impacts girls’ sport in schools, but none – it seems – about something as fundamental as the effect of their periods.

Now, though, a group of academics are trying to change that by conducting research into the level of education around the menstrual cycle and how this might affect participation in physical activity.

Teachers throughout the UK are being encouraged to complete an online survey in the hope that the results can help strengthen girls’ willingness and ability to be active.

Dr. Natalie Brown from Swansea University is one of those leading the research and says she was drawn to the schools work after her involvement with elite athletes in the same area.

After examining how the menstrual cycle affected top level athletes in their training and performance, it became apparent that next to no work had been done with younger age groups.

“One of the things that came out of that research was the lack of education they had received when they were younger, relating to the menstrual cycle,” says Natalie, who has provided sport science support to Wales at the Commonwealth Games.

Limited research

“We started to think about those questions of where do females get their education from and what does that look like.

“We considered whether if this effects elite athletes, how is it affecting younger girls? And is it causing them to drop out of sport?”

There had been only very limited research into some narrow aspects of what causes girls to skip sport in schools, but the survey is aimed at providing a much broader picture.”

The hope is that by speaking to teachers, a clearer picture can emerge about how much participation by girls in sport might be going missing because of issues around the menstrual cycle.

“I think there are three key aspects of the survey,” says Natalie, who is based at Swansea University’s department of sport and exercise science.

“Firstly, what is the level of education? Secondly, are teachers supported? And thirdly, how do those issues interact with the level of participation in sport and physical activity?”

Yoga relief

Anecdotally, Natalie says conversations with teachers have indicated that many girls miss PE lessons or other activities due to their periods, or maybe just go absent from school altogether.

But it has also been suggested to the group that girls don’t receive much support or advice from teachers, who may themselves feel uncomfortable or lacking practical help to assist.

“We want to find out what is and isn’t discussed,” adds Natalie. “For instance, it’s known that yoga can reduce period cramps, but is that option ever discussed or do girls on their period just not participate at all?”

Elite female athletes have always known of the monthly challenge to their training and performance schedules and have used different methods to limit the disturbance.

One of the findings of previous research was that elite athletes tended to become better at managing their routines through experience, whereas younger women sometimes admitted they had not really made a connection between a downturn in their performance or enthusiasm for training and having their period.

Healthy body

All of that would suggest that education for girls in school could have significant benefits when it comes to lessons avoided and activities missed out on.

In recent years, some female elite athletes in various sports have talked publicly about using contraception pills to regulate their periods, while in a 2020 survey* 60 per cent of elite sportswomen said their performances were affected by their periods.

Some others have made allegations of being encouraged to be so underweight as to stop having periods altogether.

“Women and girls are fortunate,” adds Natalie. “Unlike males, we have this sign that we are in really good health. Having a period says everything in our body is working really well.

“So, it’s really important for us to learn what can we do to support girls in their menstrual cycle so they don’t miss PE and drop out of sport.”

Survey 

Do you teach in a primary or secondary school? 

Take part in a UK wide survey to help understand menstrual education within schools.

Click here to take part

 

*https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/53593459

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