The role of youth sports in public health

Katherine Skala, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Study 1: Schools provide a range of opportunities for youth to be active, however, over the past decade, these opportunities have been declining. Sports teams are a promising venue to promote physical activity yet limited research has examined the gender an ethnic differences in sport participation. The purpose of this study is to examine trends in sport participation from 1991-2009 among US high school students. Secondly, we examined the association between gender and ethnicity with sports over time. This serial cross-sectional study used surveillance data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a probability based sample weighted to represent gender and race/ethnic subpopulations of US high school students. The findings of this paper reveal persistent gender and ethnic disparities for sports participation among US youth. Since sports teams may provide a substantial source of physical activity, greater efforts should be undertaken to increase the participation of girls, especially minorities, in sports teams. Study 2: Sports team participation is congruent with teaching and supporting healthy eating, yet limited research has examined the association between sports participation and dietary behaviors. This study aims to determine the association between youth sports participation and dietary behaviors among elementary-aged children. Significant dose-response associations were observed between number of sports teams and consumption of most fruits and vegetables. The likelihood of eating fruit for boys increased with the number of sports teams (1 team: OR=1.89; 3 teams: OR=3.44, p<0.001) and the likelihood of consuming green vegetables for girls was higher with the number of sports teams (1 team: OR=1.50; 3 teams: OR=2.39; p<0.001). For boys, the odds of consuming fruit-flavored drinks was higher ( p=0.019) and the odds of drinking soda was lower (p=0.018) with participation in increasing number of sports teams whereas for girls, sports participation was positively associated with diet soda consumption (p=0.006). Study 3: Parents and peers have been shown to have a strong influence over the physical activity, dietary, and sedentary behaviors of youth. Youth sports teams have the potential to offer physical activity, displace sedentary behaviors, and promote a healthy diet. The purpose of this study is to assess how peer and parental support for physical activity and healthy eating, coupled with sport participation, is associated obesity related risk factors including diet and sedentary behaviors. A secondary analysis of data from the School Physical Activity and Nutrition study, a state-representative survey, was conducted. Eighth (n=3,931) and 11th (n=2,785) grade students were categorized into four groups based upon the level of peer and parental support derived from a three item scale and their participation in sports (sports/high support, sports/low support, no sports/high support, no sports/low support). Linear models were conducted to determine the difference in means between these groups for the following outcome variables: previous day fruit and vegetable intake, scores for an unhealthy and healthy food index, and hours spent watching television, playing video games, and working on a computer. Eighth graders had significantly greater levels of parental support for healthy eating and physical activity compared to 11th grade. Both 8 th and 11th graders in the sport/high support for healthy eating from peers and parents scored significantly higher on the healthy food index than other groups. Eighth and 11th graders in the sport/high support for physical activity from peers participated in fewer hours of sedentary behaviors than any other group (p ≤ 0.032). Although it is thought that sport participation may offer opportunities to support a healthy diet and displace sedentary time by offering providing physical activity, our study found that parental and peer support for activity and healthy eating may further attenuate this association. Parents and peer support should be an important target when developing strategies to improve healthy diets and reduce sedentary time among youth, especially in the context of youth sports. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Public health

Recommended Citation

Skala, Katherine, "The role of youth sports in public health" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3521850.