From the Journals

Team sports may mitigate tough childhoods

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Optimize opportunities for adolescent sports

Approximately half of children suffer an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that can negatively affect their mental health throughout life, and “team sports can be an avenue to interrupt these negative sequelae and address the important public health burden of depression,” wrote Amanda E. Paluch, PhD; Nia Heard-Garris, MD, MSc; and Mercedes R. Carnethon, PhD.

However, a significant socioeconomic disparity in team sports for children continues to grow in the United States, driven in part by a youth sports industry and culture that caters to high-income families looking to improve their children’s performance. “Although unintentional, these expenses leave behind lower-income children,” many of whom may be at increased risk for ACEs, the editorialists noted. Many inexpensive, community-based recreation leagues, especially in low-income areas, are often underfunded and unable to update facilities and attract more participants.

The benefits of team sports appear to go beyond the physical, as the study by Easterlin et al. suggests that feeling accepted and connected as part of a team has an impact on mental health. Also, the winning and losing of sports helps build emotional resilience that carries over to other areas of life, the editorialists added.

“Optimizing the opportunities for sports during adolescence requires relatively few resources and is a low-cost way to improve quality of life and reduce the population burden of mental health disorders, especially for adolescents and young adults with histories of ACEs,” they concluded.

Dr. Paluch and Dr. Carnethon are affiliated with the department of preventive medicine and Dr. Heard-Garris is affiliated with the department of pediatrics at Northwestern University, Chicago. They commented on the study by Easterlin et al (JAMA Pediatr. 2019 May 28. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1209). They reported no conflicts of interest.



Individuals who experienced adverse childhood experiences but also played team sports as teens were less likely to have mental health problems in adulthood than those with childhood challenges who did not play sports, based on data from nearly 5,000 individuals.

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Physical and mental health problems are more prominent throughout life among those exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and physical activity in general and team sports in particular have been shown to improve mental health, wrote Molly C. Easterlin, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues.

In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, the researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to compare the development of depression, anxiety, or depressive symptoms among those with childhood ACEs who did and did not participate in team sports in adolescence.

Overall, team sports participation was significantly associated with reduced odds of depression (adjusted odds ratio, 0.76), anxiety (aOR, 0.70), and depressive symptoms (aOR, 0.85) in young adulthood for individuals with ACEs, compared with those with ACEs who did not play team sports.

Of 9,668 adolescents in the study, 4,888 individuals reported one or more ACEs and 2,084 reported two or more ACEs. The researchers compared data from the 1994-1995 school year when participants were in grades 7-12 and in 2008 to assess their mental health as young adults (aged 24-32 years).

No significant differences in associations appeared between sports participation and mental health between males and females.

The results were limited by several factors including the study design that did not allow for causality and the potential social desirability bias that might lead to underreporting ACEs, Dr. Easterlin and associates noted.

Nonetheless, “given that participation in team sports was associated with improved adult mental health among those with ACEs, pediatricians might consider recommending team sports participation for patients with ACEs and parents might consider enrolling their children with ACEs in team sports,” they wrote.

Dr. Easterlin is supported by the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center via the UCLA National Clinician Scholars Program. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Easterlin MC et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2019 May 28. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1212.

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