On the heels of Michelle Obama's announcement of her anti-obesity program, it turns out sports may improve girls' later employment and educational lives as well as their health. But what to do about the klutzes?
Girls' sports do appear to have some preventive effect on obesity in adulthood. According to Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times, economics professor Robert Kaestner found that girls who played sports had a 7% lower risk of being obese in their 30s and 40s. Kaestner acknowledges that the reduction is small, but it's still a larger effect than that of any public health program. What's really interesting about girls' sports, though, is that they appear to affect women's lives as well as their bodies. Economist Betsey Stevenson (who knows how to pick an attention-getting topic, if her previous studies of women's happiness and marriage rates are any guide) looked at states with high girls' sports participation as a consequence of Title IX. According to Parker-Pope, she found that increased sports participation in childhood "explained about 20 percent of the increase in women's education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-to-34-year-old women."