NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Teenage boys involved in high school team sports are less likely to get depressed or smoke but they are more associated with increased fighting and binge drinking, according to a U.S. study.
The findings by Ohio's Injury Prevention Center, Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, conflict with the idea that getting high school students involved in team sports will help keep them away from drugs, alcohol and other unhealthy behaviors.
Research presented on Monday at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting showed team sports participation can have both "protective and risk-enhancing" associations for high school students, said researcher Susan Connor.
"There is a lot of rhetoric that promotes sports team participation as a complete positive -- something that has no negative effects," Connor told Reuters Health.
"Sports participation is kind of almost rhetorically positioned as a panacea for social ills; it will stop crime and alcohol and drug use. But all the bits and pieces of evidence suggest that's not really true."
Connor and her colleagues analyzed survey responses from more than 13,000 U.S. high school students who participated in a 2007 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey.
"Our hypothesis was that sports team participation would not be overwhelmingly positive but it would have positive and negative effects, which is just what we found," Connor said.
About 60 percent of the boys surveyed participated in team sports in the past year.
These male high school athletes were found to be 1.4 times more likely to binge drink and 1.3 times likelier to fight but less prone to suffer from depression or smoke, the study found.
Among the high school girls surveyed, 48 percent reported being on one or more sports team in the past year and they were less likely to fight, smoke cigarettes or marijuana, feel depressed, or follow unhealthy weight loss practices.
Connor said there was no association between sports team participation and drinking for white female students but for black high school girls, sports team participation was associated with increased levels of binge drinking.
"This was unexpected and something that needs follow up," Connor said. "I would imagine that it has more to do with socioeconomics than with race," she added.
Another big unknown, Connor added, is which particular sports may have protective or risk-enhancing effects on teen athletes.
"I would imagine that the type of sport, the level of competitiveness, the social environment of a community all plays a role," Connor said. "I think when we break it down by sport we will find some explanations for the observations we found."
Reporting by Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith