Boosting the number of children who play sports by just 25 percent by 2030 would save the country tens of billions of dollars in medical costs, a report claims.

Less than a quarter of American children ages six to 17 get the recommended hour of physical activity everyday, a figure that has been trending downward for decades while youth obesity has soared and now affects one in five kids. 

A study led by researchers at the City University of New York (CUNY) found boosting the number of children in sports by 25 percent over next five and a half years would lead to $80billion savings, 1.71 million fewer cases of overweight/obesity and 352,000 cases of weight-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In March 2020, it took mere days for schools and after-school sports programs to cancel athletic events out of concern for students’ health. But four years later, the numbers of children rejoining their teams is lower than researchers and doctors would have hoped.

The Covid pandemic, which saw millions of children forced to forego time with friends and with extracurricular activities, resulted in general loss of interest in sports which persists today

The Covid pandemic, which saw millions of children forced to forego time with friends and with extracurricular activities, resulted in general loss of interest in sports which persists today

Raising youth participation in sports from the current 50.7 percent to 63.3 percent could decrease the rates of overweight and obesity by an 3.37 percent, translating to approximately 1.71 million fewer cases

Raising youth participation in sports from the current 50.7 percent to 63.3 percent could decrease the rates of overweight and obesity by an 3.37 percent, translating to approximately 1.71 million fewer cases

Researchers even predict that just boosting participation from its current level to that of pre-Covid – 58.4 percent – could save a staggering $29.17 billion.

The 2030 goal is part of the government’s Healthy People initiative launched in 1979, which sets 10-year national objectives and targets aimed at improving the health and well-being of Americans. 

The latest study was led by researchers at the City University of New York (CUNY) who used a computer simulation of American children aged six to 17 to show the long-term benefits of meeting the goal of increasing the current level of youth participation in sports. 

Marie Martinez, an expert at CUNY and author of the study said theirs is the first study to quantify the impact of sports participation on kid’s physical and mental health as they grow up.

She said: ‘This is not only helpful for showing the current and future impact of increasing sport participation, but can also help decision makers determine how to invest and allocate resources to increase participation.’

In addition to representing youth participation in sports, the computational model that they used simulated and tracked weight-related health issues, including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and some types of cancers that they may be likely to experience over their lifetime.

Raising youth participation in sports from the current 50.7 percent to 63.3 percent could decrease the rates of overweight and obesity by an 3.37 percent, translating to approximately 1.71 million fewer cases. 

Moreover, achieving this goal could also add more than 1.8 million years of healthier life for individuals.

And the improved physical health stemming from higher participation in youth sports could prevent approximately 352,000 instances of weight-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and various forms of cancers throughout the lifetimes of children aged 6 to 17.

The downstream effects include massive healthcare savings amounting to $22 billion in direct medical costs and over $25bn in productivity losses due to improvements in physical health. 

Researchers also said that physical well-being is not the only facet that would improve if more children were physically active and participated in sports. 

They reported that the overall reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms from achieving the Healthy People 2030 target could save $3.61 billion in direct medical costs and mitigate productivity losses amounting to $28.38 billion across the youth population. 

Rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. jumped 17% from 2011 to 2020, with those aged 12 to 19 years old the most at risk

Rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. jumped 17% from 2011 to 2020, with those aged 12 to 19 years old the most at risk

Achieving the Healthy People 2030 goal is projected to add more than 1.8 million years of healthier life for young people

Achieving the Healthy People 2030 goal is projected to add more than 1.8 million years of healthier life for young people

Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, founder of Project Play, and co-author of the study, said: ‘We’re dangerously close to having a nation in which most children no longer play organized sports.

‘We need the help of public health, education, government, philanthropy and other sectors that touch the lives of kids – those that will derive many of the benefits and cost savings of getting and keeping more kids in the game.’

Their report was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

The researchers’ sense of urgency to boost youth sports participation is a result of sky-high youth obesity rates in the US that have shown no signs of stopping.

An estimated 21.5 percent of Americans between the ages of two and 19 were obese in 2020, according to a report published in JAMA Pediatrics. That marks a 17 percent jump from previous data gathered in 2016.

The Covid pandemic, which saw millions of children abruptly shunted to remote-only learning and forced to forego extracurricular activities and time with friends, has had a lingering impact on youth sports participation, but signs indicate that a return to normal is coming, albeit slowly.

Project Play’s 2022 report shows the number of hours children spend playing has returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

Children aged 5 to 18 spent an average of 16.6 hours per week on sports activities in September 2022 compared to 13.6 percent prepandemic and 7.2 percent in June 2020.

Still, a growing number of children are not interested in playing sports at all.

In May and June of 2020, about 19 percent of parents said their child’s loss of interest in playing would likely stop them from resuming sports when the pandemic got under control.

That figure spiked to 28 percent in Fall 2021 and held steady at 27 percent in Fall 2022. 

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