Washington DC: High school sports participation instils healthy habits in boys and girls that can lead to healthier lives, according to research presented at the 2023 AAP National Conference & Exhibition at the Walter E. Washington Convention Centre, and body image issues caused by social media may be contributing to teenagers quitting.
The abstract, "The Effects of Body Image, Social Media, and Gender Roles on Sports Attrition," was written by researchers who surveyed 70 current or past athletes, aged 8-18, from local sporting organisations or sports medicine clinics. According to the findings, many teens stopped because they felt they "didn't look right for the sport" based on images seen in the media and on social media.
"The benefits of youth sports participation are numerous and uncontested. Motor competence in children is positively associated with cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and healthy weight status," said lead study author Cassidy M. Foley Davelaar, DO, FAAP, CAQSM, Nemours Children's Health, Florida Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Physician, associate professor at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, and medical provider of the United States Tennis Association.
"Negative body image and poor self-esteem affect physical activity in a similar way to poor perception of skills."
Some of the reasons that the 70 teenagers surveyed reported for quitting sports were poor body image from social media comparisons, coaching, and competitive pressure. Body image concerns were slightly less common among the boys than the girls.
The study found that 44 percent of males thought they looked better than the ideal and 46 percent of females thought they looked worse than the ideal.
Approximately 70 percent of children will drop out of sports by age 13 years, and girls drop out of sports at a rate two times greater than that of boys.
"In the surveys, women tend to be a bit more unhappy or uncomfortable with their body image than men. I believe this means we need to look critically at the messages we are sending female athletes as to what an athlete looks like to be more inclusive, body-positive and realistic."
"Why are there no real athletes modelling sports clothes and why are only the top athletes seen in images?" Dr. Foley Davelaar said. "We need to demonstrate to these younger generations a more diverse, inclusive and imperfect image of what it means to be athletic in order to invite them into that world. With this study, we hope to shed light on the real reasons for sports attrition to keep more kids involved."