By Ken Reed

Research reveals that poor children and adolescents are participating significantly less in sports and fitness activities than those from more affluent families.

A CDC study found 70% of children from families with incomes above $105,000 participated in sports in 2020 vs. only 31% for families below the poverty line. A Seattle-based study found middle schoolers from more affluent families were three times more likely to meet physical exercise guidelines than less affluent students.

“What’s happened as sports has become more privatized is that it has become the haves and have-nots,” said Jon Solomon, editorial director for the Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program.

The Aspen program has found that lower income children have become less physically active over the past decade while for kids from families with incomes above $100,000 participation has actually risen slightly.

Part of the problem is the decline in physical education classes in schools over the past decade-plus.

“Particularly for low-income kids, if they don’t have access to sports within the school setting, where are they going to get their physical activity?” Mr. Solomon said. “The answer is nowhere.”

A recent report from the Physical Activity Alliance gave schools a nationwide grade of D- for physical fitness.

Another troubling trend is that junior high schools and middle schools across the country are dropping organized sports programs from their offerings. Some high schools are dropping freshman and junior varsity programs.

The big problem is private sports programs aren’t accessible to many poor families. It’s not just the high cost of sports participation in club sports leagues but also the cost to travel to competitions, purchase equipment and the time required to take kids to club sports activities.

Aspen Institute research has found that families spend on average $1,188 per year per child for soccer, $1,002 for basketball, $714 for baseball and $581 for tackle football.

The physical activity gap continues to grow and less affluent young people continue to suffer as a result — physically, mentally and emotionally.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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