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Unique Aspen Institute Tool to Help Children Find the Right Sport This Fall Season

The Healthy Sport Index provides data-driven analysis for parents on health benefits and risks for football, soccer, baseball, cross country, volleyball and more

Parents say they enroll their child in sports largely for two main reasons – their child’s interest and to increase physical activity, according to a national survey by the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program and Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). As parents consider which sports to register their child for this fall, the Healthy Sport Index offers a resource to help them make informed decisions related to health, including the amount of physical activity offered by a sport.

The Healthy Sport Index is a first-of-its-kind tool created by the Aspen Institute and HSS to assess the health benefits of the most popular adolescent sports. Twenty high school boys and girls sports were evaluated based on the best available data and expert analysis in three areas of health – physical activity, injury risk, and social, emotional and mental well-being.

Visit HealthySportIndex.com. Watch a video explaining how to use the tool.

To measure physical activity, North Carolina State University researchers documented the degree to which players in different sports moved their bodies at high school practices. Each sport was measured by the proportion of participants who exhibit vigorous exercise, walking, and lying down/sitting/standing.

Vigorous Exercise at Boys Practices  Vigorous Exercise at Girls Practices
Cross Country, 68% Cross Country, 57%
Track and Field, 60% Soccer, 56%
Swimming, 57% Swimming, 56%
Wrestling, 55% Volleyball, 48%
Soccer, 50% Basketball, 40%
Lacrosse, 46% Lacrosse, 38%
Tennis, 41% Tennis, 36%
Basketball, 40% Track and Field, 31%
Football, 39% Softball, 20%
Baseball, 29% Competitive Cheerleading, 16%

Boys exhibited more vigorous exercise than girls. For instance, track and field showed a major gap by gender – 60% of boys practiced vigorously, compared to 31% of girls. Researchers found this was likely due to how much additional time girls spent on activities not intended to be part of the content at practice, such as transitioning between drills, water breaks, and changing equipment. Girls in track spent 30% of their practices in these types of activities, compared to 9% for boys in track.

At HealthySportIndex.com, parents will find additional health data and analysis tied to injuries and mental, social and emotional well-being. Each evaluated sport includes recommendations for complementary sports to play based on overall health and athletic skill development in a child’s primary sport. This can be particularly helpful for children who are cut by a team in one sport and may want to find a new sport to play.

The Healthy Sport Index recognizes that how each sport experience is served differs from school to school, and team to team. A finding of lower emphasis on any of the three defined priorities does not imply that choosing that sport is detrimental, just that other sports may offer greater benefits based on data.

In addition, the Healthy Sport Index is searching for innovative high school teams that apply best practices for sports health. Winners will be promoted nationally as a model for others in their sport and receive a financial award. High school teams may apply here. Read the rules here.

Sports & Society Program Editorial Director Jon Solomon, who managed the Healthy Sport Index project, is available for media interviews. Contact Jon at jon.solomon@aspeninstitute.org.

The mission of the Sports & Society program is to convene leaders, foster dialogue, and inspire solutions that help sport serve the public interest, with a focus on the development of healthy children and communities. The program provides a venue for thought leadership where knowledge can be deepened and breakthrough strategies explored on a range of issues. Its signature initiatives are Project Play and Future of Sports.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

About HSS | Hospital for Special Surgery

HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the 14th consecutive year), No. 2 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2023-2024), and the best pediatric orthopedic hospital in NY, NJ and CT by U.S. News & World Report “Best Children’s Hospitals” list (2023-2024). In a survey of medical professionals in more than 20 countries by Newsweek, HSS is ranked world #1 in orthopedics for a fourth consecutive year (2023). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has the lowest readmission rates in the nation for orthopedics, and among the lowest infection and complication rates. HSS was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center five consecutive times. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State, as well as in Florida. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. In addition, more than 200 HSS clinical investigators are working to improve patient outcomes through better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat orthopedic, rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. The HSS Innovation Institute works to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The HSS Education Institute is a trusted leader in advancing musculoskeletal knowledge and research for physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, academic trainees, and consumers in more than 165 countries. The institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally. www.hss.edu.