THE SOCIAL IMPACTS OF SPORT AND RECREATION - AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY
The positive impact of participation in sport and active recreation on physical health is now well accepted. Research has identified a wide range of sport-induced health benefits including improving cardiovascular health and assisting in the development of strength and balance. In light of this, governments at all levels have become increasingly active in encouraging people to adopt physical activities as a regular part of their lifestyle. In contrast, much less is known about the social impact of sport and physical recreation and, in recent years, there has been an increasing focus on, and interest in, identifying such impacts.
In order to identify research on the social benefits and to evaluate the evidence which supports them, NCCRS is producing an annotated bibliography on this topic on behalf of the Standing Committee on Recreation and Sport (SCORS). This bibliography will provide sports administrators, policy developers and researchers with a summary of available data and research on the social impacts of sport, including comments on the methodology used and the general value of the research in terms of advancing understanding of the issue.
The bibliography will consist of a comprehensive list of Australian and New Zealand articles, reports and other publications which describe research on the social impacts of sport and physical recreation. Information on selected international studies and research will also be included in order to glean insights from key research conducted overseas.
In this project, a relatively broad definition of 'social impact' is used which includes outcomes impacting on either the individual or on society in general. Thus research on topics such as the impact of sports participation on mental health, life-skill development, crime prevention and social cohesion are all included. Research that has identified either positive and negative social impacts are included. The focus of the bibliography is primarily on empirical research; however, information on relevant literature reviews is also provided.
To date, about 100 references have been included in the bibliography. A significant proportion of these focus on the impact of exercise participation on aspects of mental health. There is an increasing body of evidence which supports the notion that exercise participation is associated with statistically significant improvements in mood and reductions in stress and anxiety. However, while many of the references reviewed identify such a link, there were also a number of cases where no significant association between physical activity participation and improvements in mental health was found.
In addition, a number of references have highlighted the potential of sport to divert youth-at-risk from harmful activities such as violence, drug abuse and crime. However, according to the literature reviewed, these benefits are generally observed over the short term. Little research has been conducted which examines the long term impacts of participation on youth-at-risk. Furthermore, a number of articles also discuss the negative impacts of physical activity participation, particularly amongst the younger population, including evidence of associations between participation and increased levels of aggression, negative body image and higher propensity for risk-taking behaviour.
Evidence is also presented in the bibliography regarding the role of exercise participation in maintaining life skills in the older population, and in promoting cultural and community pride in Indigenous populations.
Overall, it is noteworthy that despite the sometimes strong associations between sports participation and the social impacts discussed in the studies reviewed, few demonstrated a clear case of causality. The findings of a significant number of studies are also constrained by methodological limitations, including the lack of control conditions, small sample sizes and non-random sample selection.
The completed bibliography is expected to be released later this year and details on how to access it will be provided in forthcoming editions of this newsletter.