Background: There are specific guidelines regarding the level of physical activity (PA) required to provide health benefits. However, the research underpinning these PA guidelines does not address the element of social health. Furthermore, there is insufficient evidence about the levels or types of PA associated specifically with psychological health. This paper first presents the results of a systematic review of the psychological and social health benefits of participation in sport by children and adolescents. Secondly, the information arising from the systematic review has been used to develop a conceptual model.
Methods: A systematic review of 14 electronic databases was conducted in June 2012, and studies published since 1990 were considered for inclusion. Studies that addressed mental and/or social health benefits from participation in sport were included.
Results: A total of 3668 publications were initially identified, of which 30 met the selection criteria. There were many different psychological and social health benefits reported, with the most commonly being improved self-esteem, social interaction followed by fewer depressive symptoms. Sport may be associated with improved psychosocial health above and beyond improvements attributable to participation in PA. Specifically, team sport seems to be associated with improved health outcomes compared to individual activities, due to the social nature of the participation. A conceptual model, Health through Sport, is proposed. The model depicts the relationship between psychological, psychosocial and social health domains, and their positive associations with sport participation, as reported in the literature. However, it is acknowledged that the capacity to determine the existence and direction of causal links between participation and health is limited by the fact that the majority of studies identified (n=21) were cross-sectional.
Conclusion: It is recommended that community sport participation is advocated as a form of leisure time PA for children and adolescents, in an effort to not only improve physical health in relation to such matters as the obesity crisis, but also to enhance psychological and social health outcomes. It is also recommended that the causal link between participation in sport and psychosocial health be further investigated and the conceptual model of Health through Sport tested.