Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kudos to the Soccer Moms

By design soccer is an activity that promotes health and fitness. The amount of exercise performed at practice and the emphasis on proper diet directly affects players’ fitness and promotes a lifestyle that influences health well into adulthood. A recent study now suggests that participation in youth sports may have other, unanticipated effects that may lead to an overall healthy lifestyle. Researchers from SUNY Brockport have found that playing sports may have some influence on whether or not high school kids use their seatbelts.

The study analyzed the data found in the US National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. This survey is administered every two years to groups of 9th through 12th graders. For this study, two aspects of the survey were used. The first was a question about seatbelt use when riding in a car. The teenagers were categorized as those who always / mostly / sometimes used seatbelts and those who rarely / never used them. Second, athletic participation was determined by how many high school or club sports each kid participated in. Non-athletes did not participate in any sports, moderately involved athletes played on 1-2 teams per year and highly involved athletes played on 3 on three or more teams.

Of nearly 19,000 students surveyed, 81% reported that they used seatbelts at least some of the time. The results also showed that girls were more likely than boys to wear seatbelts as were younger teens versus older teens. The more interesting finding was that both moderately and highly involved athletes reported more seatbelt use than the non-athletes. In this study, non-athletes were 25% more likely to report that they rarely or never wear seatbelts than were the teens that played sports.

The investigators argue that the differences between athletes and non-athletes may be related to personality types and the need for teens to engage in “risky” behaviors. Sports may provide an alternative to risky behaviors such as not wearing a seatbelt. They also suggest that athletes may avoid risky behaviors out of fear that their place on the team may be jeopardized. They may fear being punished by their coach or parents, especially if the behavior results in a violation of seatbelt laws.

While the researchers may be on to something, they may have overlooked a more obvious reason for the increased seatbelt use among teenage athletes. Seatbelt use is a habit that probably gets ingrained early in life. It seems reasonable that young children who grow up wearing seatbelts will use them as teens. This is where the soccer moms step in. How many parents who drive the team carpool have said, “We’re not going anywhere until everyone buckles up”? Could it be that this insistence on seatbelt use helps kids develop a habit that lasts once they’re driving on their own? Maybe all of those trips to and from practice have the unintended benefit of promoting a healthy lifestyle practice!

Nearly everyone is aware of the importance of seatbelt use. Using a seatbelt is estimated to prevent nearly 16,000 deaths annually and as many as 350,000 injuries. Seatbelt use is perhaps the most important factors in preventing injury and death during an auto accident.

So, to all you soccer moms (and dads): keep up the good work. Pestering your kids to wear their seatbelts may be paying off!

Reference

Melnick MJ, Miller KE, Sabo DF, Barnes GM, Farrell MP (2009) Athletic participation and seatbelt omission among US high school students. Health Education and Behavior, in press, DOI 10.1177/1090198107308377.