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With sports, focus on fun to build healthy youth

Aug 7, 2019

Fall sports—football, soccer, cheerleading, etc.—are underway. Do athletics truly benefit our children? Recent research in the journal Pediatrics looked at this issue.

The good

Organized sports give children the opportunity to be active regularly, which is good for cardiovascular health. There’s also a social benefit: Through athletics, kids learn commitment and hard work. Finally, kids who play sports have lower rates of depression and substance abuse and higher self-esteem.

The not-so-good

Kids who specialize in one sport can increase their risk of injury. Researchers recommend children not partake in organized sports until age 6. Younger kids may not have the needed motor skills or attention span.

Social and emotional concerns exist, too. Sports may provide opportunity for bullying. Kids can feel pressure to perform well. As athletes enter adolescence, their risk-taking behaviors are higher, particularly alcohol abuse and use of smokeless tobacco.

Opportunity is not always equal. Children from families with lower incomes may encounter barriers related to cost and transportation.

What we can do

Researchers recommend:

  • Focusing on fun. Engage young athletes in activities appropriate for their age and ability.
  • Using sports to emphasize values such as hard work and commitment.

Dr. O’dell Moreno Owens is the president and chief executive officer of Interact for Health and InterAct for Change. Dr. Owens is a reproductive endocrinologist. He earned an MD, an OB/GYN residency and a master’s of public health degree from Yale University School of Medicine. He also obtained a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology at Harvard Medical School. In recent years, Dr. Owens has served as the Hamilton County Coroner, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President, and Interim Health Commissioner and Medical Director of the Cincinnati Health Department.

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