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
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