Even Youth Sports Don't Provide Enough Exercise, Study Finds
Credit: Amy Myers | Dreamstime

Only about one-fourth of children participating in organized sports such as baseball, softball or soccer are getting the government-recommended amount of physical activity during team practices, according to a new study.

Children and teens should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, national guidelines say. But the study found that only 24 percent of youth in organized sports meet that recommendation.

"Based on current findings, it appears that youth sports practices are making a less-than-optimal contribution to the public health goals of increasing physical activity and preventing childhood obesity," researchers from San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego, wrote in the study.

The researchers documented the physical activity of 200 kids ages 7 to 14 who played on 29 soccer, baseball or softball teams. They measured the youths' activity by having them wear accelerometers small devices designed to detect motion around their waists. Parents provided demographic, age, racial/ethnic, height and weight information about their children.

Overall, only 24 percent of the kids met the guidelines. Fewer than 10 percent of participants ages 11 to 14 and fewer than 2 percent of girl softball players reached the guideline, the study said.

Practices varied in length ranging from 40 minutes to 130 minutes for soccer and 35 minutes to 217 minutes for baseball or softball. But kids were active for less than half the length of practices.

On average, youths were moderately to vigorously active for 45.1 minutes per practice, which is 46.1 percent of the practice time. Soccer players were active for an average of 13.7 more minutes and 10.6 percent more of practice time than baseball or softball players, the study said.

There were also differences in age and gender boys were active 10.7 more minutes and 7.8 percent more of practice time than girls, the study said.

Kids ages 7 to 10 spent 7 more minutes and 5.8 percent more of practice time engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity than those ages 11 to 14, according to the study.

The researchers hope the findings will spur change in the design of youth sports to increase physical activity.

"The health effects of youth sports could be improved by adopting policies and practices that ensure youth obtain sufficient physical activity during practices," they wrote.

These improvements might include emphasizing participation over competition, creating teams for all skill levels and for all age groups, providing access for low-income youth, using pedometers and accelerometers to measure physical activity and providing coaches with strategies to increase physical activity, they said.

The study was published online Dec. 6 in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Pass it on: Just because your child is on a sports team, doesn't mean he or she is getting enough exercise. Make sure he or she gets 60 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical activity a day.