I believe that high school sports, and behaviors related to school athletics, are fostering obesity, eating disorders and illness in America. Here is my Top 10 List of reasons why school sports are – counter-intuitively – leading to bad habits and worse health for America’s young people.
1) Rapid weight-gain in childhood is associated with life-long obesity and heart disease. Bad behaviors that are associated with school athletics include bulking up for football, dropping and gaining weight for wrestling, and ultra-thin eating habits, leading to anorexia in young gymnasts.
2) The concept that, “You’re an athlete – you’re working out, so you can eat whatever you want to eat,” promotes consumption of junk foods, which also extends to the spectators who consume junk foods sold at sporting events.
3) Teaching the concept that endurance and intense aggressive training is a healthy lifestyle – “no pain, no gain” – reduces the likelihood that voluntary athletic behavior will continue into adulthood.
4) If “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” as the goal in sports participation, then inevitably there will be many losers. Ultimately this concept becomes a psychological negative when one thinks of health and its relationship to exercise.
5) Lengthy afterschool practice sessions, combined with late-evening competition in Junior Varsity team sports, leads to missed hours of sleep, a drop in metabolism and a propensity toward obesity.
6) Head injuries in soccer and hockey, as well as football concussions, are becoming a common cause of extended illness in young people.
7) Repetitive damage to joints results in long-term disability, including back, knee and hip disease.
8) This results not only in limiting one’s ability to ambulate as an adult, but subsequently results in weakened cardio-pulmonary function due to a lack of mobility, thereby increasing the likelihood of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
9) Sadly, school athletics encourage the culture of drugs: Taking stimulants for added stamina, including energy drinks such as Red Bull, often leads to the accepted use of steroids and other harmful and/or prohibited substances.
10) The overriding concept that winning is the most important part of the game is perhaps the umbrella theme promoting all the other unhealthy behaviors that affect today’s young athletes.