Question of the Week

September 18, 2006


With childhood obesity on the rise, and health officials concerned about the sedentary lives of children, there is some positive news...

"There are an estimated 41 million American kids playing competitive youth sports. The number of children involved in youth sports has risen significantly over the last 10 to 20 years, according to Dr. Steve Carney, a professor of sport management at Drexel University in Philadelphia. ... Much of the growing enthusiasm for youth sports has come from the changing way in which children play, experts say. ... As unstructured play has gone by the wayside, competitive league sports have filled the vacuum. But what kind of effect has it had on kids? For the most part, a good one, experts say. Kids learn how to be physically active -- no small feat at a time when childhood diabetes is soaring and 16 percent of American kids are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- as well as how to work within a team and take pride in their skills. But there's a downside as well. ... One of the biggest concerns in youth sports, Gould says, is parents who push their kids into 'premature specialization,' where kids focus all their skills on one sport and endure year-round training. It can lead not only to burnout, but also to sports injuries."

While some are happy to see anything that encourages children to be more active, others are concerned about the mental and physical "side effects" of too much time and attention being invested into one or more organized sports at a young age. While the mental and/ or emotional effects can be subtle, the physical toll can often be easier to document...

"There are two general types [of sports injuries]. The first type is called an acute traumatic injury. Acute traumatic injuries usually involve a single blow from a single application of force - like getting a cross-body block in football. Acute traumatic injuries include the following: a fracture..., a bruise, known medically as a contusion..., a strain..., a sprain..., an abrasion..., a laceration.... The second type of sports injury is called an overuse or chronic injury. Chronic injuries are those that happen over a period of time. Chronic injuries are usually the result of repetitive training, such as running, overhand throwing, or serving a ball in tennis. These include: stress fractures..., tendinitis..., epiphysitis or apophysitis.... Often overuse injuries seem less important than acute injuries. You may be tempted to ignore that aching in your wrist or that soreness in your knees, but always remember that just because an injury isn't dramatic doesn't mean it's unimportant or will go away on its own. If left untreated, a chronic injury will probably get worse over time."

Even if no physical injuries are evident, the amount of time required for practices, travel, and games (or meets) can tax the body in other ways.

"Most teens need about 8 1/2 to more than 9 hours of sleep each night. The right amount of sleep is essential for anyone who wants to do well on a test or play sports without tripping over their feet. Unfortunately, though, many teens don't get enough sleep. ... For most teens, the pressure to do well in school is more intense than when they were kids, and it's harder to get by without studying hard. But teens also have other demands on their time - everything from sports and other extracurricular activities to fitting in a part-time job to save money for college. ... Teens who fall asleep after midnight may still have to get up early for school, meaning that they may only squeeze in 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night. An hour or 2 of missed sleep a night may not seem like a big deal, but it can create a noticeable sleep deficit over time. ... This sleep deficit impacts everything from a teen's ability to pay attention in class to his or her mood. Research shows that 20% of high school students fall asleep in class, and experts have been able to tie lost sleep to poorer grades. Lack of sleep also damages people's ability to do their best in athletics."

Often faced with the feeling that there are not enough hours in the day, student athletes try to balance time between school, practice, homework, and sleep. In order to do well in sports, young athletes need time to practice. In order to stay eligible to play, student athletes need to spend time doing homework. Going to class is not typically an option, so sleep time suffers. As there is less time for sleep, the student will not be able to think as clearly, and the athlete will not be able to perform to the best of his/ her ability.

As one might imagine, this seemingly vicious cycle can be the source of some stress.

"The good news about regular physical activity is that everyone can benefit from it. ... Parents can help their children maintain a physically active lifestyle by providing encouragement and opportunities for physical activity. Families can plan outings and events that allow and encourage everyone in the family to be active. Teenagers: Regular physical activity improves strength, builds lean muscle, and decreases body fat. Activity can build stronger bones to last a lifetime. ... Regular physical activity burns calories while preserving lean muscle mass. Regular physical activity is a key component of any weight-loss or weight-management effort. ... Everyone under stress, including persons experiencing anxiety or depression [can also benefit from an active lifestyle]. Regular physical activity improves one's mood, helps relieve depression, and increases feelings of well-being."

Questions of the Week:
How can student athletes find the balance between school, homework, sports, and sleep? What can non-athletes do to get more exercise without adding more stress? Who can benefit from organized sports? Who might benefit more from more unstructured opportunities to exercise and/ or participate in informal sports activities (a game of basketball with a few friends after school for example)?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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