COLUMBIA -- South Carolina leads the country in the number of children who do not take part in after-school team sports or lessons, according to a new study by the University of South Carolina.
The study finds that 54.5 percent of S.C. children do not take part in these activities.
The nine states that follow South Carolina are Mississippi, Florida, Nevada, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Tennessee.
Such findings underscore the fact that "children's play is not really just play," said Jan Probst, director of the S.C. Rural Health Research Center at USC's Arnold School of Public Health, which conducted the study.
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Activities such as team sports, dance classes and karate lessons form healthy habits that will last a lifetime, Probst said.
The research also finds rural children are not more active than urban children, strengthening their bodies by performing chores on family farms or spending large amounts of time outdoors.
Instead, the study found rural children are more likely to be overweight or obese than their urban peers. That's likely because urban children have more options for activity.
The study did not look at nutrition factors, but it did look at television and media use as well as how safe parents felt their children were in their communities.
Almost 37 percent of rural S.C. parents said they either felt that their children weren't safe in school, in their neighborhood or their home, Probst said.
She believes this points to obstacles facing rural families such as parents traveling greater distances for jobs and having inadequate options for their children's after-school care. Perhaps an older child rides the bus home and the family rule is to stay inside until the parent comes home.
That child isn't getting outside to play or ride a bike in the afternoon for sheer safety reasons, Probst said.
"Our big recommendation is that we need to get people involved in trying to figure out what the causes of obesity are in their neighborhoods," and to find ways to increase their options for activity, Probst said.
What the study found
Among the findings of a USC study that looked at 993 South Carolina children ages 10 to 17 and 100,000 nationwide:
• Almost 35 percent of children in the rural South are more likely to be overweight than their counterparts in other parts of the nation.
• By contrast, 27 percent of children in the West are likely to be overweight.
• South Carolina leads the nation in the percentage (54.5 percent) of children who don't take part in after-school team sports or lessons.
• Across the nation, 30.6 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese; Washington, D.C., ranks first at 39.6 percent; South Carolina ranks sixth at 35.8 percent.
For more about the study, see rhr.sph.sc.edu/index.php. Look under "reports" and then "behavioral health."