Background: Among numerous health benefits, sports participation has been shown to reduce the risk of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents. Schools represent an ideal environment for increasing sports participation, but it is unclear how access and choice influence participation and whether characteristics of the school sports program differentially influence boys' and girls' participation. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the characteristics of high school athletic programs and determine the extent to which these characteristics influenced boys' and girls' sports team participation. Methods: Longitudinal telephone surveys were conducted with 1244 New Hampshire and Vermont students. Students self-reported their sports team participation at baseline (elementary school) and follow-up (high school). High school personnel were surveyed to assess sports opportunities, which were defined for this analysis as the number of sports offered per 100 students (i.e., choice) and the percent of sports offered that did not restrict the number of players (i.e., access). Results: Approximately 70% of children participated on at least one sports team, including 73% of boys and 66% of girls. We detected statistically significant interactions between sex and two school opportunity variables: 1) the number of sports offered per 100 students (i.e., choice) and 2) the percent of sports offered that did not restrict the number of players (i.e., access). After controlling for children's baseline sports participation and other covariates, boys were more likely to play on at least one sports team per year if their school did not restrict participation in the most popular sports (relative risk, RR = 1.12, p < 0.01); in contrast, girls were more likely to play on at least one sports team per year if their school offered a wider variety of sports (RR = 1.47, p < 0.001). Conclusion: Sports participation has previously been shown to confer a number of health benefits; as such, school sports programs may be an important, effective, and underused target for public health efforts, including obesity prevention programs. Efforts to increase physical activity among youth should consider both access and choice in school athletic programs. Schools may need to use different strategies to increase sports participation in boys and girls.
Drake, K. M., Longacre, M. R., MacKenzie, T., Titus, L. J., Beach, M. L., Rundle, A. G., & Dalton, M. A. (2015). High school sports programs differentially impact participation by sex. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 4(3), 282–288. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2013.11.006