Controversial study suggests sports increase risk of teen drinking and violence

11/3/2009

A controversial study recently presented at the American Public Health Association’s 137th Annual Meeting and Exposition in Philadelphia is claiming that teen sports may be associated with risky behaviors such as drinking and violence.
 
The study is based on the surveys of 13,000 high school students from across the United States that sought to find a correlation between sports participation and risky behaviors. According to the survey, 60.5 percent of male respondents said they participated in team sports in the previous year and 48 percent of females said they had played one or more team sports.
 
For males, taking part in team sports was associated with fighting and binge drinking, but also linked with lower levels of smoking and depression. For females, taking part in sports was associated with lower levels of fighting, depression, smoking, drug use and unhealthy weight-loss habits.
 
"[These] findings are based on correlations – and correlations never establish cause and effect,” said George Scarlett, assistant professor of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University in Boston, in an interview with the ABC News Medical Unit. "The impression given is that sports somehow cause risky behavior, but the correlations do not say this. They merely say the two co-occur."
 
The controversial findings also contradict many studies conducted over the years that extol the benefits of sports participation for children. For example, in the April 2006 issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a study entitled “Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Patterns Are Associated With Selected Adolescent Health Risk Behaviors,” found that children who are physically active in any way are less likely to smoke, drink or take other health risks.
 
Nonetheless, these correlations underscore the importance of always keeping sports positive. Adults involved in youth athletics must use the sports environment as a way to steer children away from dangerous behaviors off the field. When sports programs for children are conducted in a safe and positive atmosphere participants reap countless benefits that enhance their development not only as young athletes, but as individuals.
 
The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) would like to know what its members think. Can team sports participation really lead children to bad behavior, or are they a great tool for building positive values that youngsters will carry with them for a lifetime? Visit the NYSCA Coaches Forum and tell us how you feel about these controversial study results.

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