NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Healthier Sports

September 2, 2003

Increasingly, researchers are stressing the importance to their health of children engaging in physical activities that they can continue throughout their adult lives. The biggest drop in children's physical activities tends to occur as kids move from middle school to high school, say experts.

Team or competitive sports can have a positive impact on the likelihood they will continue to exercise later in life, depending on the sport. According to one long-term study of more than 1,200 Johns Hopkins medical students:

  • Students who, at about age 22, were highly proficient at the individual sports of tennis or golf were more likely to remain physically active in midlife than those who had high ability in the competitive team sports of football, baseball or basketball.
  • One reason is that adults have fewer opportunities to play team sports like basketball or football as they age, and those sports also can be grueling on aging joints and muscles.
  • Men who played tennis, in particular, were far more likely to still be playing their chosen sport in middle age and also had lower heart-disease rates at the age of 60 than those who played other sports.

Cheryl Braselton Anderson, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston is leading a four-year National Institutes of Health study of 900 middle-school students and their changing attitudes about their own athletic abilities. In interviews with eighth graders, Anderson found that the kids believed being athletic means taking part in several sports, spending a lot of time on sports, being physically active and fit, and being good at sports in general. However, it is estimated that 70 percent of children enrolled in organized sports quit by the time they are 13.

Source: Tara Parker-Pope, "Why Gym Class Matters, "Kids' Attitudes Toward Sports

Can Affect Their Adult Health," Wall Street Journal, September 2, 2003.

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