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Does Youth Sports Participation Promote Long-term Physical Health for Individuals with Childhood Adversity?

Childhood adversity has negative implications for health and wellbeing, including poorer health behaviors and greater cardiovascular risk. More work is needed to identify protective factors for those who have experienced childhood adversity. The current study assessed the role of sports participation as a potential moderator of the relation between childhood adversity and health behaviors in adulthood. Data was obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (N=6,476). In Wave I, participants (aged 12-19) reported demographic characteristics, sports participation, and general health. Childhood adversity was reported across Waves I through IV and compiled into a 12-item index. In Wave V, participants (aged 33-43) reported on three health behaviors (physical activity, dietary quality, and smoking). Moderation was assessed with regression models that tested the main effects of childhood adversity and youth sports participation, as well as an interaction effect between the two, on each health behavior. Analyses controlled for age, sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and health at Wave 1. There was a main effect of sports participation (b=-0.06, p<.001) but not adversity (b=-0.03, p=.12) on physical activity in adulthood. There were significant main effects of both youth sports participation (b=-0.06, p<.001) and adversity (b=0.04, p=.04) on dietary quality. Lastly, while sports participation did not predict likelihood of smoking (OR=0.94, 95%CI[0.77,1.13]), youth with greater childhood adversity were more likely to smoke in adulthood (OR=1.25, 95%CI[1.18,1.33]). Interaction effects were not significant across the models. The current analyses demonstrate that sports participation may be important for all youth, regardless of level of adversity experienced, in promoting healthy behaviors. Efforts should focus on expanding access sports participation for youth who may be at high risk for developing poor health behaviors in adulthood.