Participating in team sports is associated with a reduced likelihood of youths becoming established smokers, according to a new report issued by the Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire. The study found that young adults who did not take part in team sports were twice as likely to become smokers as those who played sports.

At the same time, the study found that watching movies increases the chances that children will light up. As many as 30% to 50% of adolescent smokers attribute their smoking to seeing it in films, researchers say.

“Team sports is clearly protective to prevent youth from smoking,” said lead researcher Anna M. Adachi-Mejia, a research assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Hood Center for Children and Families, at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H.

Professor Adachi-Mejia and her colleagues analyzed data from school- and telephone-based surveys that assessed movie smoking exposure and team sports participation in 2,048 youths from September 1999 through November 1999 and February 2006 through February 2007. Baseline movie smoking exposure was reported when respondents were ages 9 to 14 and team sport participation was assessed at ages 16 to 21 at follow-up.

A total of 353 (17.2%) of the respondents were established smokers (having smoked 100 cigarettes or more in their lifetime) at follow-up. “Compared with the other respondents, established smokers were significantly more likely to be male, be older, have parents with lower levels of education, have a higher proportion of close friends who smoke, have parents who smoke, report lower school performance, have higher levels of sensation seeking and rebelliousness and be less likely to be enrolled in school at the time of follow-up,” the authors write.

“In summary, this study supports the benefits of youth participation in team sports, which appears to protect against established smoking even in the face of movie smoking exposure,” the authors conclude. “However, movie smoking exposure increases the risk of established smoking among both team sports participants and non-participants. Parents, teachers, coaches and clinicians should be aware that encouraging team sports participation in tandem with minimizing early exposure to movie smoking may offer the greatest likelihood of preventing youth smoking.”

The study was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute.
A separate study conducted by the New York City school system indicated that physically fit elementary and middle school students perform better academically than classmates who are deemed out of shape.

The report found that students who placed in the top third of the school system's fitness scale had higher math and reading scores on average than students in the bottom third. In particular, the kids who rated among the top 5% for fitness – on measures that included strength and aerobic capacity – scored an average of 36 percentage points higher on state reading and math tests in 2007-08 than did the least-fit 5%.

Likewise, a study by the National Sporting Goods Association reported that 78.7% (212.7 million) of Americans aged seven or older participated more than once in one of 23 sports and recreational activities in the report.