Do Organized Sports Interfere With Healthy Living?

sharma-obesity-varsity-sportsPhysical activity is the best medicine and we certainly have an epidemic of sedentariness in Canada.

But is this an argument in favour of encouraging kids to participate more in organized sports?

Not if you also care about healthy eating and perhaps other aspects of life-work balance according to a study by Andrea Chircop and colleagues from Dalhousie University in Halifax, published in Health Promotion International.

Based on in-depth family interviews in youth recruited from six schools at the junior high school level (grades 7-9; age range 12-14 years) based on location (urban, suburban and rural) and neighborhood socioeconomic status (high and low socioeconomic status), it turns out that time pressure to meet the demands associated with scheduled physical activity for youth was the dominant theme across interviews from all neighborhoods.

Participants consistently placed far more emphasis on the importance of physical activity than on healthy eating.

Thus, the pressure to engage youth in organized physical activity appeared to outweigh the importance of healthy eating, which led to neglecting family meals at home and consuming fast food and take out options.

As the authors note, it is perhaps the increased public emphasis on participation in organized sports that may in fact be inadvertently driving kids (and their parents?) directly into the arms of the fast and convenience food industry.

Thus far, very little attention has been placed in health policy discussion on how to tackle the “time starvation” as the underlying cause of unhealthy lifestyles.

It is perhaps time to consider public health discourse on whether or not any putative benefits from participation in organized sports are largely cancelled out by the ensuing time pressure that not only seriously cuts into time for healthy eating but also sleep and other activities that should be part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

This discussion is particularly relevant given that in Canada the “fitness tax benefit” appears to be little more than a boondoggle to the “sports and fitness industrial complex”, which, incidentally, appears to worry more about profits (including advertising revenues from the promotion of unhealthy foods and beverages) than improving population health.

If you find that your kids’ over-scheduled lifestyles interfere with healthy eating or sleep (or even school work), I’d love to hear about it.

Zurich, Switzerland

ResearchBlogging.orgChircop A, Shearer C, Pitter R, Sim M, Rehman L, Flannery M, & Kirk S (2013). Privileging physical activity over healthy eating: ‘Time’ to Choose? Health promotion international PMID: 23945086