New Research Shows Long-Term Benefits of Sports for Girls

February 19, 2010

Many studies suggest that participating in physical activity, particularly sports, has numerous benefits for girls, including a reduced risk of developing cancer, better grades, and high self-esteem. Some people wonder, however, if girls who already have these attributes are drawn to play sports instead of sports participation itself leading to these benefits. Two recent studies featured in the New York Times now show a direct correlation between participation in sports and these long-term benefits.

Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a state-by-state analysis that showed that girls’ increased participation in sports since the passage of Title IX has had a direct effect on women’s education and employment. Stevenson found that, for 25- to 34-year-old women, Title IX and the ability to participate in sports accounted for about 20 percent of the increase in education attainment and about 40 percent of the rise in employment. “It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life,” Stevenson said. “While I only show this for girls, it’s reasonable to believe it’s true for boys as well.”

In a second study, Robert Kaestner, an economics professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, compared the rates of obesity and physical activity of women who attended high school in the 1970s with those of women who were in high school in the years before the passage of Title IX. After controlling for factors like age and changing diets, he found that girls’ athletic participation could be associated with a 7 percent lower risk of obesity nearly 20 to 25 years later. So while many public health programs have ambitious goals, none have had the impact of the passage of Title IX.

Nicole M. LaVoi, associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota is quoted in the New York Times article as saying, “While we have more girls than ever before, we still have far more boys playing sports than girls. … The research clearly states that when anybody, boys and girls, are anybody, boys and girls, are physically active, they can reap developmental and health benefits. But we haven’t reached equality yet.”

AAUW agrees 100 percent. Even at the 2010 Winter Olympics, women still cannot compete in ski jumping, a competitive sport for men since the 1924 Olympics. Across the country, many girls still are not getting a fair chance to play sports. To make sure girls at your local high school have opportunities to participate in sports and thereby increase their chances of living healthier and fuller lives, download AAUW’s Know the Score Program in a Box. Also, please take two minutes to urge your members of Congress to pass legislation that would better enforce Title IX stipulations at the high school level.

And check out Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program, which encourages all kids to get active so they can lead healthier lives.

Holly Kearl By:   |   February 19, 2010


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