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Research Findings Pertaining To Girls and Women of Color in Sports


The link between sports participation and the prevention of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression is well-established, as is the relationship between sports participation and a number of health risk behaviors like drinking, smoking, early sexual activity and suicidal thoughts. There is a great deal of evidence to indicates that African American and Hispanic females are disproportionately impacted by chronic diseases and some health risk behaviors, that they participate in sports in lower numbers and that their participation in sports could lead to not only lower rates of chronic disease but also reduced health risk behaviors and positive outcomes, like higher academic performance. Keep reading for some of the most compelling statistics or download the full resource below.

Health Dimensions

  • African-American women have the highest prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) of all women. CVD includes high blood pressure, coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke (American Heart Association 2014b). It is 47% among African Americans, 34% among whites and 31% among Mexican Americans. (Mosca, Goldberg, Kurokawa, Rizzon, & Corrente, 2014).
  • In youth populations, obesity is highest among Hispanic youth (22.4%) followed by Non-Hispanic black youth (20.2%), non-Hispanic white youth (14.1%) and non-Hispanic Asian youth (8.6%) (CDC, 2014).
  • The link between sports participation and reduced pregnancy rates applies across racial and ethnic categories, including white, African-American, and Latina girls (Sabo et al., 1998).
  • Hispanic girls were at especially high risk for suicidal ideation and behavior; 42% felt sad or hopeless, 21% considered suicide, 15% made a suicide plan, and 14% attempted suicide; one in 25 attempts required treatment by a health professional (CDC, 2008).

Athletic Interest & Participation Dimensions

  • In 2005-2006 only 28% of high school girls met the current physical activity requirements. White (30%) and Latina (27%) girls were more likely to meet current standards for physical activity than black (21%) girls (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003).
  • In a study by Sue et al.,(2002) the activity levels of 1,213 black girls and 1,166 white girls decreased significantly between the ages of nine and 18. White girls suffered a 64% decline while black girls experienced a 100% decline in activity.
  • Urban girls, especially girls of color, often face unique barriers to participation. Many have jobs in order to supplement family incomes, while others take care of siblings at home. In some ethnic groups, parental support for girls’ athletic participation may be lacking (Place, 2004).

Educational and Social Dimensions

  • Black and Hispanic/Latino female athletes report better grades in high school and greater involvement with extracurricular activities than female non-athletes (Sabo, Melnick, & Vanfossen, 1989).
  • African American female athletes in particular are 27% more likely than students overall to graduate from college (NCAA, 2013 and NWLC, 2013).
  • In rural schools, Hispanic female athletes were three times less likely to drop out of high school than non-athletes (Sabo, Melnick, & Vanfossen, 1989).

Her Life Depends On It Women of Color Brief(pdf)(1.07 MB)

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