A new study shows that teens who play on three or more sports teams are up to 39% less likely to be obese.
Ditching the school bus and walking or biking to school may also help teens keep their weight in check.
Researchers found that teens who actively commuted to school more than three days a week had a 33% lower risk of obesity than teens who took the bus or were driven to school.
"Team sport participation had the strongest and most consistent inverse association with weight status," wrote researcher Keith M. Drake, of the Hood Center for Children and Families at Dartmouth in Lebanon, N.H., and colleagues in Pediatrics. "Obesity prevention programs should consider strategies to increase team sport participation among all students."
Sports Tackle Teen Obesity
In the study, researchers surveyed 1,718 New Hampshire and Vermont high school students and their parents about their weight and physical activity.
The teens were asked about their team sport participation, other extracurricular physical activity, how they commuted to school, physical education, and recreational activity for fun, as well as their diet.
Overall, 29% of the teens were overweight or obese, and 13% were obese.
About three-quarters of the teens played on sports teams. Specifically:
- 17.4% played on one sports team.
- 18.6% played on two sports teams.
- 35.3% played on three or more sports teams.
Active commuting to school was less common than sports team participation. Only about 10% of teens walked or biked to school more than three-and-a-half days per week, and 69% said they never walked or biked to school.
The results showed participating on multiple sports teams was the biggest factor in lowering teens' likelihood of obesity.
Physical education (PE) classes for teens had little impact on weight status.
Other factors like extracurricular physical activity, academic performance, and eating fruits and vegetables were also associated with a lower risk of being overweight or obese.
But playing on three or more sports teams was the only form of physical activity that consistently reduced teens' risk of being overweight or obese.
"Adolescents who played on three sports teams or more in the last year were 27% less likely to be overweight/obese and 39% less likely to be obese compared with adolescents who did not play on any sports teams," write the researchers.
Based on their results, researchers estimate that national teen obesity rates would decrease by 26% if all teens played on at least two sports teams per year.
They say participation in high school sports reduces the risk of childhood obesity because it involves regular practices and competitions that require moderate to strenuous activity levels.
The study also suggests that childhood obesity rates among teens would drop by 22% if all teens walked or biked to school.