By Nelson A. King
A new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) says Latin American and the Caribbean lag in sports spending, stating that the region could get a development boost from sports activities that improve the region’s social and health benefits.
But the report warns that the programs must be “properly designed and monitored.”
The report says Latin American and Caribbean government spending on sports is “modest,” pointing to preliminary analysis of fiscal budgets from 17 countries that shows that spending on sports averages around 0.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
The region’s spending on sports is about one-third of the percentage spent by European nations, without considering special programs for elite athletes or Olympic financing, the report says.
“World Cup soccer season is a good time to celebrate the benefits of sports,” said IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. “This report shows our region needs to spend more on sports, not just to produce better athletes but also to foster happier, less violent and healthier societies.
“To gain the social benefits, we also need to design better sports programs and rigorously evaluate those that already exist,” he added.
The report says while the region produces first-rate athletes in numerous professional sports, exercise is a marginal activity.
Based on self-reported data, one out of three adults in the region qualifies as physically inactive, compared to the global average of one in four, defined as participating in less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
The report says the lack of activity is pervasive in all demographic segments, “but it is even more worrisome among school-going adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17, with almost 9 out of 10 adolescents not achieving the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.”
According to World Health Organization estimates, the prevalence of physical inactivity is 35 percent higher in women than in men worldwide, and 41 percent higher in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Almost one in four adults in Latin America and the Caribbean qualify as obese (a body mass index of 30 percent fat or higher) and more than half are overweight, the report says.
The report notes that sports can build human capital and enhance productivity by improving physical and mental health, discouraging substance abuse, and inspiring athletic as well as academic achievement.
Sports can encourage capital accumulation, facilitate the workings of markets, and strengthen institutions through their effect on social capital, trust and culture, and crime, the report says.
Data from the United States show that expanding girls’ access to athletic participation translated into a 10-percentage point jump in state-level female sports participation, according to the report.
This, in turn, the report says, generated a 1-percentage point increase in female college attendance and a 1 to 2-percentage point rise in female labor force participation.
Research using data from the German Socioeconomic panel has found that active participation in sports boosts earnings by about 1,200 euros annually over a 16-year period, compared to no or very little sports activity, according to the report.
These results, it says, translate into a rate of return on sports activities in the range of 5 percent to 10 percent, on a par with an additional year of schooling. Similar results have been found for the United States, the report says.
In Brazil, the report says salaries of physically active individuals are between 15 percent and 31 percent higher than those of sedentary counterparts.
But the report warns that authorities need to be cautious when opting for policies based on these studies.
“It may be that people who choose to play sports have certain unobservable skills and characteristics that also make them more successful later in life,” said Carlos Scartascini, a lead researcher at the IDB and a study coordinator.
The report says evidence is mounting that even the programs with the best intentions could have unintended negative results.
It says some programs increase the prevalence of the behaviors that they try to curve, such as substance abuse and violence.
Researchers using a Swedish sample found that participation in activities with low structure — such as a lightly supervised youth recreation center — was associated with high levels of antisocial behavior, the report says.