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The role of sports in promoting health in urban environments

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Dr. Cameual Wright

Embarking on a journey towards a healthy lifestyle begins at home, and integrating sports at an early age can be a transformative approach for families. However, this integration does not come without its challenges.

The discussion surrounding the barriers to health in urban environments is multifaceted. Barriers including poverty, unemployment, lack of transportation and limited access to greenspaces are all contributing factors. Research from a national study found 16 percent of youth aged 6 – 19 years old are overweight and those living in rural areas are at greater risk for physical inactivity and obesity. Food deserts are also a massive barrier in urban areas, often depriving families of access to fresh produce. When looking at barriers on an individual level, it is important to note the prevalence of chronic diseases.   

As a nonprofit managed care entity, CareSource makes a concerted effort to invest in communities and support what is needed within those environments, providing funding and volunteer assistance. The support of community sporting leagues – such as the Indiana Pacers and Indiana University – and events, such as sports camps are ways to begin to break down those barriers, providing young people with a roadmap to living a healthy life.  

For children, sports offer more than just physical activity–they provide an avenue for personal and social development. Participation in team sports teaches valuable life skills such as teamwork, leadership, and discipline. Research shows student participation in some form of school sports positively affects grades, self-esteem, and body-image perception.

CareSource 5K in 2023 (Photo provided/CareSource)

The dynamic of being a part of a team helps kids navigate communication, teaching how every player contributes to the team’s success. Frequently, school sports assist in fostering a sense of confidence in students. The positive gratification that comes from achieving success through sports can significantly boost confidence in young people. When there is room for improvement, it provides students with the opportunity for growth, providing space for introspection.

 A 2015 survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Harvard, and NPR found approximately nine in 10 parents whose middle school or high school-aged children play sports said their children benefit greatly from participating in sports. Additionally, the majority of parents whose children play sports believe it is very likely or somewhat likely their child will continue playing or participating in sports.  

Leveraging sports programs to instill healthy habits early in life is something schools and community organizations do to promote overall well-being. Sports are a powerful tool to foster physical health, mental health, and community engagement.

Whether it is a neighborhood soccer match or a professional basketball game, sporting events are platforms for fostering a sense of community. Supporting sports ultimately supports weight management, physical activity and lessens the chance of chronic diseases.

Dr. Cameual Wright, MD, MBA is the medical director for CareSource Indiana, a nationally recognized non-profit managed care entity which administers one of the largest Medicaid-managed care plans in the U.S. The organization offers health insurance, including Medicaid, Health Insurance Marketplace, and Medicare products.

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