NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Teens who play a couple of team sports and walk or bike to school are less likely to be overweight or obese, a new paper says.
In a study of more than 1,700 teens, those who played on at least two sports teams per year were 22% less likely to be overweight or obese than those who did not play on any teams at all. Those who walked or biked to school four to five times per week were 33% less likely to have weight problems.
Overall, the connection shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people, said Dr. William Stratbucker, a pediatrician at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Healthy Weight Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“I think this is info that a lot of consumers will see as common sense. If your child is on sports teams, they’re less likely to be obese,” said Dr. Stratbucker, who was not involved with the new study.
The researchers surveyed students and parents from New Hampshire and Vermont public schools over seven years, starting around 2002. The surveys were conducted over the telephone and recorded several pieces of information, including what activities the students participated in and the students’ height and weight.
Overall, 29% of the teens were overweight or obese.
The researchers, who published their study online today in Pediatrics, then looked at which activities seemed to be linked to the least risk of weight problems.
About three out of four teens played on a sports team, and the researchers found that those who played at least two sports per year were least likely to be obese.
Of the 492 teens that didn’t play on a team, about 40% were overweight or obese, compared to about 22% of the 927 who played at least two sports.
Keith Drake, the study’s lead author from Dartmouth Medical School’s Hood Center for Children and Families in Lebanon, New Hampshire, said that playing multiple team sports may help more than just playing one because those teens probably stay more active throughout the entire year.
“It does give kids a consistent way to participate in moderate to vigorous activity,” Drake told Reuters Health.
He added, however, that simply playing one sport is probably good for kids, too.
As for walking or biking to school, Drake and his colleagues found those who commuted more than three days per week were least likely to be obese.
Meanwhile, extracurricular and recreational physical activities didn’t seem linked to weight.
The study did have some limitations. For instance, the information was reported by the students and parents, which could introduce errors.
But overall, Dr. Stratbucker told Reuters Health that the study shows that it’s important for parents to encourage their kids to remain moderately to vigorously active all year long.
He cautioned, however, that just being in a sport does not mean teens are active.
“If a sport is what they want to do and it’s limited in moderate to vigorous activity, they’re going to have to find that moderate to vigorous activity somewhere else,” he said.
Drake added that it’s also important to make those opportunities available to teens.
“I think finding efforts to promote sports participation helps in our obesity prevention efforts. And this study – I think – speaks to paying more attention to that,” he said.