Study links sports with alcohol and chew

  • Feb. 14, 2011 7:00 p.m.

Todd Coyne

Black Press

A new study has found that while B.C. youth are more active today than kids were a decade ago, more is not always better where physical activity and a healthy lifestyle are concerned.

That’s because of a direct correlation between heavy involvement in sports and heavy use of alcohol and chewing tobacco among older teens.

The annual report from Vancouver’s McCreary Society found that youths 17 and older – especially boys – who participated in athletics four or more times per week were more likely to have tried alcohol and chewing tobacco and were more likely to have recently engaged in binge drinking than those who played sports only once a week or less.

It’s a risk factor that Terry Fox Ravens football coach, and former BC Lions player, Tom Kudaba said he has seen at all levels of the game.

Participants in elite sports often split themselves into two camps, Kudaba says: those who avoid toxins such as alcohol and tobacco in order to perform at their physical peak and those who are “led astray by the culture of the team.”

“If the culture of the team is dominated by the traditions of negative influences, then those types of players will play along,” he said, adding that it’s up to each athlete to decide which camp he or she falls into.

But where do these negative traditions come from and why must young athletes choose between “belonging” and their health?

Annie Smith, McCreary Society director and a co-author of the report, told Black Press that some of the blame for popularizing binge drinking and chewing tobacco among youths lies with some professional athletes in sports such as baseball, football and hockey who tend to espouse a party lifestyle as part of the game at those higher levels. It’s up to the coaches and team leaders in youth sports to combat these stereotypical behaviours, Smith said.

“We saw much better injury-prevention behaviour among the kids who are heavily engaged in sports – they’re more likely to wear a helmet, more likely to wear a seatbelt – so, clearly, they’re getting those messages,” Smith said. “So if we could sort of give the same messages for alcohol and chewing tobacco, then I think we’d be onto a winner because definitely young people look up to coaches.”

Despite the concerns, in all other facets of teenage life, physical activity reaps a bounty of physical, mental and emotional rewards for participants, the McCreary study found.

Better eating and sleeping habits, fewer instances of suicide or self-harm and clearer problem-solving abilities were just a few of the stated benefits of athletics in the report, which compared physical activity levels among 29,000 B.C. youths from 1998 to 2008.