The majority of young women who want to be police officers are just not physically fit enough, a senior commander has warned.
Alastair Finlay, an assistant chief constable with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, expressed concern that only two out of every 10 would-be female recruits were now passing the PSNI's physical entrance test, compared with 90% of men.
Mr Finlay pointed to societal and lifestyle trends as a potential explanation.
"There is an issue for wider society in terms of the overall fitness particularly of young women - they are significantly less fit than young men," he said.
The officer had been challenged at the monthly meeting in Belfast of the PSNI's oversight body - the NI Policing Board - to explain why so few women compared to men were going through recruitment training.
At present, around 30% of the PSNI's 7,000 officers are women.
Mr Finlay's blunt assessment was that too many aspiring young female officers were turning up for their physical competency exam in poor condition.
The demanding test includes push-pull grapple exercises and other aerobic tasks.
"The disparity in the data between male and females of a similar age range shows the female applicant pool are hugely less physically fit than the male applicant pool," he said.
Mr Finlay suggested some factors that could explain the figures.
"There is something going on with lifestyle, with maybe participation (in sport) in schools and colleges," he said.
"What happens when maybe you leave school, the amount of females that are involved in sport and fitness at that stage are maybe different (than men).
"But there are also different life events that happen for females, such as child birth, and we have to take all of that into account.
"That's not our area of expertise, but what we see is the people coming to the front door who say they want to be a police officer and have passed through a whole schedule of tests we have got a big disparity between male and female and it's something we have to look at very closely."