Context: During the fall of 2020, some high schools across the US allowed their students to participate in interscholastic sports while others cancelled or postponed their sport programs due to concerns regarding COVID-19 transmission. It is unknown what effect this has had on the physical and mental health of adolescents.

Objective: Identify the impact of playing a sport during the COVID-19 pandemic on the health of student athletes.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: Sample recruited via email.

Patients or Other Participants: 559 STATE-XXX high school athletes (age=15.7±1.2 yrs., female=44%) from 44 high schools completed an online survey in October 2020. A total of 171 (31%) athletes played (PLY) a fall sport, while 388 (69%) did not play (DNP).

Main Outcome Measure(s): Demographics included: sex, grade and sports played. Assessments included the General Anxiety Disorder-7 Item (GAD-7) for anxiety, Patient Health Questionnaire-9 Item (PHQ-9) for depression, the Pediatric Functional Activity Brief Scale (PFABS) for physical activity, and the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory 4.0 (PedsQL) for quality of life. Univariable comparisons between the two groups were made via t-tests or chi-square tests. Means for each continuous outcome measure were compared between the groups by ANOVA models that controlled for Age, Sex, Teaching method (Virtual, Hybrid, or In-person), and the % of students eligible for free lunch.

RESULTS: PLY group participants were less likely to report moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety (PLY=6.6%, DNP=44.1%, p<0.001) and depression (PLY=18.2%, DNP=40.4%, p<0.001). PLY athletes reported higher (better) PFABS scores (mean: [95%CI]), (PLY=23.2[22.0,24.5], DNP=16.4[15.0,17.8], p <0.001) and higher (better) PedsQL total scores (PLY=88.4[85.9,90.9], DNP=79.6[76.8,82.4], p <0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents who played a sport during the COVID-19 pandemic reported fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as higher physical activity and quality of life scores compared to adolescent athletes who did not play a sport.

This content is only available as a PDF.