Kids Playing Sports and Active Young Teens Healthier, Happier

Kids Playing Sports and Active Young Teens Healthier, Happier
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Kids Playing Sports

Some of us remember being picked last for dogeball in gym while others remember being voted MVP on the varsity soccer team. Chances are, no matter how well we performed, we felt both healthier and happier if we were active during those treacherous middle school years. Some findings support this claim, showing that kids playing sports and active teens may be healthier and happy than those who are inactive.

Kids Playing Sports may Be Healthier, Happier

Dr. Keith Zullig and Rebecca White of West Virginia University gave 245 young teens—grades 7 and 8—questionnarres determining physical activity levels and overall satisfaction with life and health. Their results were published in Applied Research in Quality of Life.

“Our findings suggest that sports team participation may enhance school connectedness, social support and bonding among friends and teammates,” say the authors.

In short:

  • Boys who participated in vigorous activity showed no effect, positive or negative, on life satisfaction or self-rated health.
  • Girls who participated in vigorous activity in the last week were significantly happier with life compared to girls who had not. Vigorous activity seemed not to affect self-rated health.
  • Playing on sports teams positively affected both girls’ and boys’ life satisfaction.
  • Boys were 5 times more likely, and girls were 30 times more likely, to describe their health as poor if they did not participate in team sports.

We must, of course, allow for greater assessment of distorted self-image within these same groups.

Distorted Self-Image and Eating Disorders in Young Athletes

For example, young teens who participate in gymnastics may not feel as secure in health or happiness as the average football or volleyball player because of social cues like bullying or teasing. Ballet isn’t as popular as cheerleading, after all.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) claims that judged sports—those that score participants—have a 10% higher prevalence of disordered eaters than refereed sports (such as the average junior varsity team sport). Female aesthetic athletes in particular—dancers, figure skaters, and gymnasts—are at risk of a distorted self-image and poor self-esteem.

“One of my patients developed an eating disorder at age thirteen when her figure-skating coach told her that she would look much better in her outfit if her rear end were smaller,” says Abigail Natenshon, a psychotherapist and author of When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder.

Context Matters

So, are kids playing sports on teams the answer? Not always – plenty of insecurity can abound in the locker room. But Zullig’s findings prove that there’s much health and happiness in team sports, too.

The bottom line may be a fine one that urges parents to keep a watchful eye while encouraging children to join sports that seem to make them genuinely happy and healthy. That physical activity of some kind plays a role in mental and physical health is clear enough.

Additional Sources:


National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

CNN Health