Survey Links Teen Sports, Healthy Behavior

There may be something to the stereotype of the clean-cut high school jock.

A survey of more than 14,000 teen-agers found that those who participated in team sports were less likely to use drugs, smoke, have sex, carry weapons or have unhealthy eating habits.

“The generally positive relationships between sports participation and health behaviors suggest that physicians should actively encourage young people to take advantage of the opportunity to join sports teams,” the South Carolina researchers wrote in the September issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, published by the American Medical Association.

While other studies have had similar findings, some have linked specific sports with unhealthy behavior, such as drinking. Athletes in the current study were just as likely to use alcohol as nonparticipants.

The researchers attributed their findings in part to team rules that frown on unhealthy behavior such as smoking.

The authors, led by Russell R. Pate, a professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina School of Public Health in Columbia, analyzed results from a 1997 survey of high school boys and girls by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC funded the study.

Robert DuRant, vice chairman of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said the findings do not show whether participation in sports “causes one to engage in more healthy behaviors.”

Teens who participate in sports have less free time and probably have parents who promote healthy behavior, said DuRant, who was not involved in the research.