With increasing attention being focused on the nationwide obesity epidemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a recent online issue of its journal Pediatrics printed a study on the “Influence of Sports, Physical Education and Active Commuting to School on Adolescent Weight Status”.
A telephone survey of 1718 high school students and parents focused on team sports participation, physical education, commuting to school, recreational activity and diet. In addition, the respondents were asked to provide their height and weight, thereby allowing for calculation of their body mass index (BMI).
The results were predictable. Compared with other forms of self-reported exercise, school sports participation had the strongest relationship with a healthy weight. This is likely due to the regular, supervised aerobic conditioning associated with daily practice and competition. This finding is consistent with previous research on the subject. It also points out the reason parents should encourage such participation. Very few children will play professional sports; not many will even play on school teams in college. However, by its impact upon weight and exercise, high school team sport participation may impact upon your child’s health for decades to come.
Of course, not all children have the skill or desire to play a school sport. For these children, it is important for the family to adopt healthy and active family habits. Dally walks, weekend activities which require physical exertion, and vacation time centered on physical activity will encourage the adoption of lifelong healthy habits. Even simple things such as taking the stairs instead of elevators, or taking longer walking routes to get to the store can help us maintain appropriate body weight.
When looking at active commuting by biking or walking to and from school, the authors found a positive effect of the more active approach. However, there was no relationship between “routine” school based physical education PE) and weight status. This is likely related to the lower frequency and intensity of PE compared with formal sports participation.
The magnitude of the benefit of exercise at these levels was substantial. If all adolescents played at least 2 team sports per year, the prevalence of obesity would drop by ~26 percent; if all walked/biked to school 4-5 days each week, obesity prevalence would drip 22 percent. If you put this in the context, and realize that only 60% of teens participate in one sport and 10 percent actively commute to school, you note a great opportunity to improve the health of our community.