We are facing a youth health crisis, with fast-food diets and inactive lifestyles, childhood obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise.  According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more then tripled in the past 30 days.  The percentage of children aged 6 to 11 yrs. old who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Some immediate health effects of obesity include cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes and a greater risk for bone and joint problems, as well as sleep apnea.  Most children that are obese will most likely be obese adults; therefore, will probably develop adult onset obesity related medical issues.

Physical activity stimulates growth and leads to improved physical and emotional health.  For example, researchers have observed that highly active children are less likely to suffer from obesity related medical issues and coronary heart disease later in life.

Exercise is also known to relieve stress. Some children experience as much stress, depression, and anxiety as adults do.  A fit child is more likely to be well rested and mentally sharp. Even moderate physical activity has been shown to improve a child’s skill at school.  According to Paul Caccamo, the Harvard-educated executive director of Up2Us, a national coalition of community sports programs that teaches young athletes life lessons,

“Kids who participate in sports attend school more, are more community and civic minded, get in less trouble, and tend to be more successful in the workplace. They have done studies from corporate leaders in the country: The number who made honor role was less than 20% but those who played sports was 70% – 80%.” (1)

However sport, not just exercise, gives a child more than just physical well being; 
it contributes to a child’s development both psychologically and socially.  Research shows that children would rather play sports than do anything else. Children who are competent at sports are more easily accepted by children of their own age, and are more likely to be team captains and group leaders. Such children usually have better social skills.

According to the NYU Child Study Center (2), sports participation is a major factor in the development of most American children.  About 25 million youth play competitive school sports.  Research has shown that sports reduces anxiety, depression, and enhances self-esteem and self-efficacy. Sport promotes social interaction, cooperation and friendship, helps kids think critically and solve problems, build self-discipline, trust, respect for others.   Schools can require that all athletes maintain a C average or better in order to improve academic performance, lower school dropout and deter delinquency and in some cases, deter gang affiliation.

Although I feel that school athletics should be part of the curriculum, but in the “real world” economy today, most school districts find it almost impossible to keep a good athletic program going.  Having an athletic program in place is the first step, but maintaining equipment, a uniform, keeping qualified coaches and directors is the necessary part of the equation for success.  Therefore, athletics do need to be subsidized by proper budgeting, community outreach, fundraising, private and corporate donations rather then primarily relying on parents and families of the athletes.

If your child’s school lacks the school funding for a proper athletics program, enrolling them at a local recreation center or even working with a qualified fitness professional can help your child grow into a confident, healthy, productive adult.

Arlene Alpuerto, MS Ex. Science/CPT/CES