Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘childhood obesity

Why youth sports isn’t reducing child obesity

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I’m part of Generation X, which is followed by Generation Y, which is, naturally, followed by Generation Z, of which my 8-year-old son is spokesman. Apparently, though, a better term for young people — heck, most Americans of any age — these days is Generation Fatass. And youth sports apparently isn’t doing much of anything to make our children less corpulent, less adipose, less… .(Hold on, let me find my thesaurus.) Not that it should be expected to, when there are much bigger, pardon the pun, reasons for obesity than youth sports could ever handle.

Baby, you put the “roll” in “b-roll.”

You might have caught news earlier in the week about a study in the journal Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine that explained why youth sports wasn’t doing anything to help matters. A sample of coverage, from McClatchy Newspapers:

Parents who sign their kids up for youth sports leagues need to know: That’s not enough to ensure youngsters get the physical activity necessary for good health.

A study released [Dec. 6] indicates youth sports practices often don’t provide the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. And since most youth sports involve only one or two practices each week, kids need to be active on those other days, too.

“Some parents sign their child up for a youth sports program and then check off that box,” said Russ Pate of the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health. “The typical youth sports program is not going to meet the physical activity requirements.” …

In some cases, the teams’ practices were limited to an hour or less on the field. But even longer practices often didn’t meet the activity requirements. The study found players were moderately or vigorously active 46.1 percent of the practice time.

Various coverage has remarked on how parents expecting organized youth sports to make their children less oleaginous (found that thesaurus) should THINK AGAIN, BABY! But parents don’t sign their kids up for organized sports so their children can stay fit, not when a two-hour softball games of mostly standing around is following by a team snack of chips and juice-ish. They do it so they can get college scholarships!

Actually, the study and a companion piece note that organized sports are, say, better than THOSE GODDAMN VIDEO GAMES YOU PLAY ALL DAY (another reason parents sign their kids up for sports). But the study authors recommend, at a minimum, more vigorous practices.

That will work as well at combating obesity as reducing taxes on the rich will in turning around the American economy. Fat cats getting fat paychecks actually have a lot more to do with our fat selves having fat children than anything youth sports can or can’t do. Not to get all political, but I’m going to get all political.

Numerous studies have found direct links between income inequality and obesity rates, as in the higher the former, the larger the latter. This is true in any country in the world. Numerous studies also have found that higher poverty rates (which are often concomitant with income inequality) also mean higher obesity rates. That rank communist Ben Bernanke says that income inequality is worse in the United States now that it’s ever been, and that’s a very bad thing:

The gap between rich and poor in this country has never been greater than now. In fact, we have the biggest income disparity gap of any industrialized country in the world. The highest income 20 percent of Americans received almost half (49.6%) of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent received by those below the poverty line. At the top, the richest five percent of Americans — those who earn more than $180,000 — had their annual incomes increase last year, census data show. However, families at the $50,000 median level saw their incomes drop. Although the changes in each direction are small annually, cumulatively they add up to greater disparity over time and that is what has happened.

Don’t feel like you’re the only villain, America. Other countries are letting their poor children languish, too.

Youth sports cannot make up for a culture in which the top earners get a lot, and everybody else gets crumbs. Unfortunately, in America, exercise and free time (and decent, nutritious food) are luxuries. Even if you’re working a lot, and especially if you’re not making much for it, opportunities to move are few, for you and your children. With schools cutting back over the years on physical education and sports, opportunities for children to have free or inexpensive organized play and sports activity are dwindling, making a bad situation worse by making sports and organized play even more inaccessible to those without means.

Sure, there are people who’ve made lousy choices, and we can all be more conscious of what our children eat, and their opportunities for play, which doesn’t have to be organized all the time.  But there has to be a societal commitment to giving children opportunities in sports that don’t involve travel teams and thousands of dollars most families don’t have to spare, and the first opportunity is to have an economy that doesn’t have a few winners, and a lot of people on the margins.

You can make youth sports practices two hours of hardcore exercise, but until we as a nation aren’t willing to feed our children to the porcine (still have that thesaurus handy) appetites of the wealthiest Americans, that’s just wasted work, as far as solving the problem of childhood obesity is concerned.

Making youth sports less taxing

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In Australia, there’s a movement to get tax breaks to help pay your kids’ fees for participating in organized athletics.

From the Northern Star, the newspaper in Lismore, New South Wales (three hours’ drive south of Brisbane and 10 hours north of Sydney):

Far North Coast parents and sporting identities have called on the Federal Government to broaden tax deductions for working families to include affiliation fees to sporting clubs, thereby encouraging participation, reducing the impact on the hip pocket and combating childhood obesity.

The Federal Government allowed the associated costs of sending children to school, such as uniforms and computers, to be a tax deduction in sweeping changes last year and many believe sport is the next frontier.

Dr David Arthur, a senior lecturer at the College of International Sports Management at Southern Cross University, says the cost of sport is becoming prohibitive for many families.

“Making sporting fees a tax break is a great idea,” he said.

“You could possibly tie that in with the private health system somehow, I don’t know. It would help the government to combat poor health and allow more people to have their kids involved in sport.

2256838871_5a376632c9_mWithout a tax break the child on the right will never resemble the one on the left. Think of the little people.

Tax dollars to support your neighbor’s kid on the travel baseball team? It’s closer than you’d think. Specifically, north of the border. Beginning Sept. 1, 2007, Canada instituted a tax break on the first $500 of fees for a child’s approved sports and activities. Basically, if you’re a Canadian parent, you get a 15 percent discount come tax time on that first $500 — and that’s per child, not total. And that’s just from the federal government. Depending on your province, you can get a similar credit at that level. In Nova Scotia, the credit extends to adult sports as well. There is a movement to get the child sports credit extended to adults nationwide, figuring it’ll save at least 135 million loonies a year in health costs.

773160242_623bd5c1c1The money we save can buy us more beer, backbacon and smokes, eh? Koo-LROO-kookookookookoo-KOOOOO!!!!

Canada is not the only country to give out these kind of breaks. For example, in Malaysia you can take a tax deduction on the cost of your sporting equipment.

The Canadian plan has its flaws. The $500 available to deduct isn’t much, given how much some sports will run you. It also doesn’t factor in equipment purchases or travel. At least in the first year of  the deduction’s existence,  it did nothing to turn around plummeting youth sports participation rates or reduce obesity, but I haven’t found any formal studies done recently to find out whether anything has changed since then. Plus, even if a deduction did increase youth sports participation, at least in the United States obesity rates have risen in parallel with participation rates. So merely increasing participation doesn’t guarantee reduced childhood obesity.

However, maybe those Canuckleheads are on to something. In the United States we allow owners of college sports stadium skyboxes to deduct 80 percent of the expense of owning it for the purpose of not watching the game. It would seem our tax breaks would be wiser handled by allowing, say, parents to deduct 80 percent of the expense of youth sports fees and equipment. (The recently passed stimulus package, like the current tax code, was very forthright that no tax breaks or money should be used to pay for athletics. Though the current code is the one that counts skyboxes as an educational contribution, and thus deductible.)

If nothing else, a tax break would help parents who are being priced out of leagues, particularly in this economy, and put our tax money to a more positive use. By god, are we going to let Australia beat us to the punch?

(Um, yes, probably.)

Written by rkcookjr

March 18, 2009 at 12:55 pm