Around 70% of women said they dropped out of sport while they were at school because of concerns around sportswear, according to a new study.

The research, compiled by England hockey international Tess Howard, found that many quit because of links between sportswear and anxiety about body image and some felt “sexualised” by what they were forced to wear. She said girls should be able to wear shorts or leggings when playing sports such as basketball, tennis and gymnastics.

Her research also found that sports kits could influence girls developing a fear of “masculinisation” and “butch/lesbian” perceptions in sport.

Based on responses from over 400 women aged 18 and over, the study was carried out by Tess at Durham University. It was published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Sport, Education and Society.

She said: “The findings I discovered, in terms of the number of girls this is putting off sport, is truly alarming. It’s the most underrated cause of low female sport numbers.

“It’s all about choice; choice is being rigorously inclusive. No person should be put off participating in any sport based purely on what the uniform requires them to wear. We must put the purpose of sport first and enable individuals to enjoy being active for all the clear benefits.”

Her research has already led to new inclusive playing kits regulations being introduced at the start of the UK hockey season.

She added: “My dream is to go to the Olympics, but my dream is also an Olympics with the option to wear shorts or skirts.”

Research by campaign group Women in Sport has indicated that girls dropped out of sport in their teens at a higher rate than boys, with only 35% of girls “very active” on a weekly basis compared with 54% of boys. It found that body image and periods and disliking sports kits or clothing contributed to the higher drop-out rate.