Children engaged in sports and extracurricular activities feel better, regardless of their background

Illustrational photo:
Wednesday 3 March 2021, 8:00 – Text: Martin Višňa

What is the link between the participation of children and adolescents in organised leisure-time activities and their health? And how are they influenced by the environment in which they live? These were the questions investigated by an international study, the main authors of which work at the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, UP Faculty of Physical Education. The results of the research were published in the prestigious Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

“This is the first ever international study to assess the relationship between engagement in organised leisure activities and the health and well-being of children and adolescents in the context of their social and socio-economic background. In addition to the Czech Republic, we used data from nine countries, including Canada, Armenia, and Russia,” said Zdeněk Hamřík, head of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.

More than 55,000 schoolchildren aged 11, 13, and 15 took part in the research. Almost 38,000 of them came from nuclear families; children living with one parent or stepparents were also represented. Experts were trying to find out, among other things, whether they participated in organised leisure-time activities (and if so, which) – including team or individual sports, artistic activities, and memberships in youth organisations.

“The good news is that more than 80% of children and adolescents from the participating countries have at least one organised activity in their extracurricular schedule. In this indicator, Czech respondents had the best scores in our study. As expected, the level of involvement in these activities decreases with age. For boys, team sports are dominant, for girls it’s artistic activities,” explained Petr Baďura, the lead author of the study.


The text of the study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health is available here.

Although the countries involved in the study differ significantly in sociocultural factors and in economic performance, experts have detected very similar patterns of participation in organised leisure-time activities. Children from better-off families had more organised activities than those from more impoverished families, similarly as children from nuclear families compared to those from stepfamilies or single-parent families.

“However, the key finding – one that we find very positive – is that children involved in organised leisure-time activities report better physical and mental health than their peers who do not engage in such activities, regardless of the environment from which they came. In other words: children involved in organised activities perceive their health more positively, regardless of their socioeconomic status, family structure, or country,” added Baďura.

The team of authors, comprised of experts from six countries, assessed the information obtained in 2018 during the last data collection for the international study Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC), which has been developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization and comprehensively deals with the lifestyle of the young generation. The Czech research institute involved as guarantor is the UP Faculty of Physical Education.

“Our study involved countries that, at the last data collection in 2018, also focussed on the issue of organised leisure-time activities, which is not among the obligatory modules used by all member states of the HBSC study. We consider the fact that we have succeeded in promoting our theme of recreation in eight other countries to be a success; it is a testimony to the fact that research focussed on leisure-time activities is vital for many countries,” concluded Hamřík.

In addition to professional publications, the staff of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies aims to present the results of the aforementioned HBSC study to the general public. On the website, visitors can acquaint themselves with the key conclusions of the study in thematic areas such as physical activities, risky behaviour, social networks, obesity, and sleep.