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Teens, Physical Activity and Weight Management

The relationship between sports participation, activity and healthy weight in adolescents

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

RVC family July 25, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Sorry, Doc but this is utter nonsense. Although there may be a relationship between playing sports and maintaining a healthy weight, you haven’t demonstrated that it’s a causal relationship. It could be that fat kids tend not to try out for the track team and that skinny kids with energy to burn do. And unless you can demonstrate the causal relationship, you have no basis in predicting that obesity would drop if more kids played sports. Even in the exercise guidelines put forth by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine in August 2007 they wrote “It’s reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling” There was a study done in Denmark in 1989, in which they recruited nonathletes to spend 18 months training for a marathon. At the end of the training and completion of the marathon, the men had only loss on average five pounds, and for the women “no change in body composition was observed”. Playing school sports and exercising are a good idea for kids (and adults!) for a variety of reasons – increased cardiovascular health, stronger muscles and bones, improved mood due to serotonin production. However, maintaining a healthy weight is not one of them.
RVC family July 25, 2012 at 12:30 AM
The reason adolescents are fatter is due to the increase in carbohydrate consumption. They need to completely avoid sugars and liquid sugars like fruit juice and soda. They need to moderate their intake of grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes, as well as moderate fruit consumption. They should be eating more green and non-starchy vegetables. And they should ignore the ‘low-fat-is-good-health-dogma’ and eat plenty of meat, fish, eggs, olive oil, nuts, and butter.
RVC family July 25, 2012 at 12:32 AM
A telephone study of 5000 high school students focused on basketball team participation and height. The students were asked to provide their height and whether they played on the basketball team The results were predictable. Playing basketball had the strongest relationship with height. This is likely due to the act of shooting, stretching out the legs and torsos of the students. The magnitude of the benefit was substantial. If all adolescents played on the basketball team, their average height would increase by over 6 inches! If you put this in context and realize that only 5% of teens play basketball, you note a great opportunity to the improve the height of the next generation. In other news, medical experts have found that participating in competitive sumo wrestling results in a 357% weight gain and getting a job as a waitress at Hooters can result in a 67% increase in breast size.
Brendan July 25, 2012 at 05:42 PM
It's pretty bad when you're a doctor posting on Patch and you get your junk science handed back to you, snapped in half, in ONE POST. An utter shame that statistics and their application is still such a foreign idea to so many and a tool used to manipulate people by others. Doc, all you're trying to tell us is this: "If you eat less crap and move around a little more, you'll probably stop scaring children at the beach and making furniture cry. The end." Stay away from math, it isn't your strong suit. RVC Family, nicely done.
Chris Wendt July 25, 2012 at 06:55 PM
This keen discussion fits nicely into the logical error, "post hoc, ergo propter hoc", or, since this follows that, then this must have been caused by that. Only in the instance of the original blog post, it is not actually possible to tell which came first, the sports or the "healthy weight". The statement that "the results were predictable" serioulsy detracts from the objectivity and credibility of the study. I take exception with the premise: "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 drop 22 percent." To me, these represent unproven—and unrealistic—extrapolations from a very small data set to a huge population universe. If there was a true causal relationship between sports participation and healthy weight, then the statement should have read: "If all adolescents played at least 2 team sports per year, then the prevalence of obesity would drop to zero".

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