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Study: Team Sports Participation Best for Youth-Obesity Prevention


What's the most effective way to prevent childhood obesity?

Get students involved in team sports, suggests a new study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers conducted telephone surveys with 1,718 New Hampshire and Vermont high school students and their parents as part of a 7-year longitudinal study of adolescent health. Participants were asked about the number of sports teams they participated on in the past 12 months, other extracurricular physical activity, how many days they walked or biked to school, other forms of active commuting, and participation in physical education.

Of the 1,718 students in the study, 498 were considered overweight or obese (29 percent) based on their body mass index measurements, and 223 fell into the obese sub-category (13 percent).

Participation on sports teams was found to be the only form of physical activity with an inverse relationship to both overweight/obesity and obesity, according to the study. Students who played on three or more sports teams in the past 12 months were 39 percent less likely to be obese and 27 percent less likely to be overweight/obese compared to who didn't participate on any teams.

More than 70 percent of the study's participants had played on at least one sports team in the past 12 months, with 607 students (35 percent) having played on three or more teams.

Active commuting to school also appeared to have a significant inverse relationship with obesity, with students who walked/biked to school more than 3.5 days per week found to be 33 percent less likely to be obese than peers who never actively commuted. However, the researchers did not find walking/biking to school to have a significant impact on overweight/obese students.

Nearly half of U.S. children walked or biked to school in 1969, according to the study, but by 2001, fewer than one in five children actively commuted to school. Almost 70 percent of the study's participants reported never walking or biking to school.

The prevalence of childhood obesity would decrease by 26.1 percent if all students participated on two or more sports teams per year, the researchers estimate. Overweight/obesity would decrease by 10.6 percent if the same were true.

"Increasing opportunities for all adolescents, regardless of athletic ability, to participate in sports should be prioritized for obesity prevention," the study authors wrote.

If all students walked or biked to school at least four days per week, the researchers suggest the prevalence of childhood obesity would drop by 22.1 percent.

The researchers found no relationship between a student's weight status and their participation in high school physical education, which aligns with previous research.

Photo: Members of the South Warren High School baseball team warm up before a tournament game last month in Lexington, Ky. A new study has found that high school students involved in team sports are less likely to be overweight compared to who didn't participate on any teams. (Alex Slitz/Daily News/AP)

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