Skepticism

I Hate the Olympics

There, I said it.

To be fair, for the most part I am completely ambivalent to the Olympics — I don’t watch, I don’t discuss it around the water cooler, and I don’t scan the sports section of the paper to see how many medals “we” have won (“we” is odd because I had nothing to do with it and only have the good fortune to live in the same swath of 3.5 million square miles as some of the athletes).

When the US male swimmers win a gold and world record, I’m generically happy for them and can appreciate the amount of training and discipline they invested, but ultimately I’m apathetic. It’s not that I don’t like sports, as I happen to really love cycling, skating, and playing football, softball, tennis, and other sports. It’s not that I think that placing so much emphasis on physical prowess causes us to lose focus of the importance of mental prowess (though I do think an Olympics of Smartness would be rad). So why the “hate” in the title?

Because of girls’ gymnastics.

I know a lot of people already vocally criticize the “sport,” but I still feel a need to add my tiny voice to the fray. Girls’ gymnastics is depressing to watch. Old men pushing girls’ frail little prepubescent bodies far beyond their limits, causing serious injuries that last a lifetime. People actually cheer when a little girl snaps an ankle and fights back the tears to go out and win a medal for her country, her trainer, and maybe herself. Ugh.

This year is particularly bad, when the Chinese have probably fudged records to let girls as young as 14 compete when the minimum age is an already-too-young 16. The girls are at risk to be abused by managers and simply injured or killed with a single misstep, and no matter what they’ll lose a large chunk of their childhood to endless hours of training in gyms. And for what? The best a girl can hope for is a medal and the happy feeling that comes from knowing you’re good at something. There are so many more important things a girl can be good at that it’s just a stupid, pointless waste to risk it all on a balance beam.

I can’t really add anything more to this side of the discussion, because so many ex-athletes and others have done a better job of it than I can. Here’s a great NY Times opinion piece about the topic. I should mention that I was inspired to write about this today after reading a post on Jezebel with this wildly ignorant statement:

But, despite Buzz Bissinger’s scathing New York Times column from last week decrying the many corrupt elements of gymnastics — the eating disorders, the injuries, the possibility that the Chinese are allowing underage girls to compete — if you watch Shawn Johnson’s near-flawless balance beam performance in yesterday’s qualifying round, all that criticism falls away.

I’m horrified by the idea that the very just criticisms of this cruel sport fall away because one girl met the ridiculous standards of the judges. The writer of the piece is the same woman who previously wrote rather ignorant things about freedom of religion. I really, really wanted Jezebel to live up to its claim as a blog for smart women but instead again and again I’m disappointed.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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122 Comments

  1. I’m in total agreement about girls’ gymnastics, and the egregious displays of nationalism.

    That said, watching the US men’s 4×100 freestyle team beat the favored French team (who had earlier in the weekend had said they would “smash” the US) by coming back in the last leg and winning by .08 seconds was pretty fuckin’ sweet.

    But I’m a sucker for upsets like that.

  2. I always found the Olympics to be a bunch of sports that I don’t really care about, especially that the only sport that I can claim to actually know all of the rules to is Baseball, which will no longer be a Olympic Sport (after this Olympics).

    I would like to come up with a new Olympics based around classic games like Musical Chairs, Red Rover, Dodge Ball, Hackey-Sack and Butts Up.

  3. Pi Recitation is a key event at the Olympics of Smartness. I’m a world-class participant in the Useless Trivia Relay.

    Thankfully, I don’t have to waste all of my time at the gym, and rarely risk injuries, to acheive at this level. All it takes is the Internets and caffeine (and/or sugar).

    At least the Olympics has (mercifully) pushed the Favre-a-palooza out of the media forefront for the time being. I was so tired of hearing that man’s name…

  4. The only reason I was excited about the Olympics this year was because I figured it would put a bit more international pressure on the whole ‘China-censors-internet’ thing. And various other human rights issues. But mainly the internet.

    And for the record, I always thought competitive drinking should be an Olympic event. And the 400 meter stagger. In that order.

  5. Alcohol Triathlon:
    -Synchronized Shots
    -400 Meter Stagger
    -An as yet unnamed event where participants see how many buddies they can call at 4am to have them bring more alcohol.

    And yeah, duh, Beer Pong.

  6. Ooxman – I believe you’re referring to the phenomenon known as “drunk dialing”, or at least a specific type. Other common 4am conversation topics are:

    – “that hot friggin’ chick/guy at the bar! OH MY GOD you should have seen her/his ass and she/he totally was CHECKING ME OUT THE WHOLE TIME!”
    – “Dude! Holy shit, dude! I just saw some dude wearing the exact same jacket that you have. NO I’M SERIOUS!”
    – “WHY DIDN’T YOU COME OUT WITH US? YOU PANSY! CLEAN THE SAND OUT OF YOUR – oh, pneumonia, for real?”

  7. Gymnastics is certainly not unique in that it takes a high physical toll. You could say the same about football. I think what changes our reaction is that in gymnastics, the damage is happening at such a young age while most other sports it happens over a longer stretch during which an adult decision to leave can end the punishment. You don’t really have that option at 16 or under.

    In a lot of countries, there is one other thing that the gymnastics participants get: a rescue from poverty. In China, for example, parents put their children into these programs at a young age for the potential of sweet government-subsidized living.

  8. I feel about the same when it comes to the Olympics. I don’t care much about it one way or the other.

    I’ve always found women’s gymnastics a bit disturbing. It seems pretty unhealthy for 16+ year olds to be prepubescent. Especially if they have been holding off puberty by exercising like crazy and eating barely anything.

  9. Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, lots of kids don’t mind countless hours spent training because they like it?

    And don’t forget, just because you don’t like the risk:reward ratio of the balance beam doesn’t mean someone else does.

  10. TheChzech, that’s actually a good point about the rescue from poverty thing… actually it’s just good to hear that there’s still girls being born in China at all.

    And Rebecca, I think The Pi Recitation idea would be great for some Pub Event-goodness. And maybe Synchronized Species Identification. Actually I just like the idea of intoxicated synchronized -anything-.

  11. Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, lots of kids don’t mind countless hours spent training because they like it?

    And don’t forget, just because you don’t like the risk:reward ratio of the balance beam doesn’t mean someone else does.

    mxracer652,
    Of course it’s a possibility the kids like spending hours upon hours in a gym. And perhaps they’ve carefully examined the risks and choose to do it anyway. But? Not likely. These gymnasts start training at an impossibly young age. Can a six-year old make a decision to put herself at risk like that? To delay puberty? To be anorexic? To give up any other activities and friends?

  12. Rebecca & mxracer652:
    Unfortunately, this is the impossibly fine line between freedom and safety. We can go from one extreme, deny medical treatment and slowly work our way to religious indoctrination of children (and in between is the fundamentalists’ indoctrination). I think with gymnastics, what is going on in China is horrible, but if a 12 or 13 year old girl wants to try it, I’m pretty sure she can do it healthily without going to the insane route that these individuals go. It’s a spectrum, but I don’t think Rebecca did anything wrong pointing out the extreme side of the spectrum, and the people in the Olympics tend to be the extreme end of the spectrum.

  13. Rebecca: “These gymnasts start training at an impossibly young age. Can a six-year old make a decision to put herself at risk like that?”

    And that’s the key, isn’t it? There are plenty of professional football players who by middle age can barely walk. For the most part, they say they would do it all over again if they could anyway. But they made the decision that got them where they are much later in life instead of having them made for them by adults responsible for their care.

  14. Protesilaus:“has anyone tried to play twister while drunk…”

    Has anybody ever played Twister sober? I mean the question literally. Has anyone in the entire world ever played Twister sober? I suspect not.

  15. As far as Olympics of Smartness is concerned, there is Academic Decathlon. Unfortunately it’s limited to high school students. There’s also contests like the MIT Mystery Hunt. It would be cool to see the winners of such events on a Wheaties box.

    After several years of ignoring the Olympics, I got sucked in this weekend. I did watch girls’ gymnastics. Whenever I watch something like gymnastics, or figureskating, or the X Games I can’t help but be in awe. It just doesn’t seem that humans should be able to do that stuff.

    Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t excuse the sacrifices and abuses demanded of the participants (maybe less-so with the X Games, I don’t know). Just because humans CAN do those things, doesn’t mean they should.

  16. I remember those academic decathlons competitions. I still have a box full of medals and fond memories of staying up until the wee hours with the female-dominated Plano East team. Good times.

  17. well now that we are pulling out medals and trophies and stuff…I got a room full of them for….well. Sports. Gymnastics, dance, swimming, and softball. Now I kinda feel retarded.

    In the ways of academia, I’m hoping my “medal” will come in the next year when I maybe (*fingerscrossed!*) get a paper published in a scientific journal. Which one? I have no idea…I’m working on that part.

    I’m not entirely sure we -had- an Academic Decathalon. That makes me sad. I was always in Marching Band championships, concert band competitions, and cheered on my friends at their forensics and drama one act competitions.

  18. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve also got medals for track events, and trophies for baseball and swimming. I don’t still have any of the music or drama awards, though.

    Check me out: I’m well-rounded!

  19. Whaaaaa….? 32 posts and the words “sexual olympics” have yet to make an appearance?

    “Ten, ten, nine point eight…then my mother, disguised as the East German judge, gave me a three point five. Must have been the dismount.”

  20. I was a fighter in my youth. I did a lot of western martial arts when I was a teenager. My best were hammer/shield, broad sword/knife, and long spear (which is almost cheating when you’re 6’4″). I never really got into epee or foil (from which modern fencing evolved), but I do enjoy rapier… so much that I have a custom hand-forged sword for it.

    Also, they canceled the sexual olympics after they realized no one in the world could compete with me. :P

  21. mxracer652 said:

    Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, lots of kids don’t mind countless hours spent training because they like it?

    And don’t forget, just because you don’t like the risk:reward ratio of the balance beam doesn’t mean someone else does.

    In addition to what Rebecca said, I also thought I’d add that the Chinese gymnasts start training at the age of 3. Toddler girls who show signs of having exceptional flexibility (and whatever other skills a 3-year-old could exhibit to determine her gymnasticiness) are put into the training circuit.

    Most preschoolers I’ve met are more interested in big wheels, learning not to wet the bed, and Sesame Street than spending 8 hours a day in rigorous olympic training. But then again, I’m no childhood psychology expert.

    In other news, anyone in Chicago this Sunday can enter the Mahoney’s Beer Olympics… this is the event I’ve been training for since I was a three year old girl.

  22. I was in the era of, every kid deserves a trophy, and since I wasn’t exceptionally skilled physically, and there were no acknowledgement of mental prowess anywhere near me (not saying I am exceptionally skilled there either) I have no trophies that mean a damn.

    Thats the fault of those programs. Sure I got trophies, but they are all worthless in my eyes.

  23. Purdue University used to have the Nude Olympics.

    In the overall rankings of fun things to do naked, this didn’t even rate. In the dead of winter, when an especially cold day arrived, it was held in the quad of the big male freshman dorm. It was basically a contest to see who could run around naked in the cold the longest. Participants were mostly male, but there were exceptions.

  24. Rebecca,
    You seem to be creating the false conclusion that rigorous athletic training as a youth = no friends, hours in a gym, anorexia, no other activities, forced participation, and frankly, that’s a lot of crap. I’ve been there, and done it.

    There’s always going to be the exception, but that is most definitely not the norm.

    That being said, it’s up to the parents to decide what is an acceptable level of risk for their children. Just because it’s not in line with you or anyone else doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

  25. mxracer652:
    I don’t think Rebecca generalized anything like that. She made specific points about what does happen in places like China. She isn’t saying that everyone who chooses to be a gymnast is anorexic and has no friends.

  26. Wrong, mxracer652, you’re battling a straw man. I am in no way condemning childhood athletics — hi, I played organized sports from the moment I could pick up a bat. I am condemning Olympic-level girls’ gymnastics, which does encourage all those things I listed. Call me skeptical, but I don’t believe that you have “been there, and done it” as a 14-year old female high-level gymnast.

    It is wrong for parents to allow their kids to go through that — not because it’s not in line with my opinion but because it is objectively wrong to force or allow a child to place themselves in such danger.

  27. I don’t remember Academic Decathlon, but we did have Knowledge Bowl in high school. I wasn’t an active participant, but I dropped in on practice sessions a couple times because I had some friends on the team and didn’t have anything better to do at the time. It’s basically a trivia competition between teams from different schools. I enjoyed wowing everyone on the team once, when I was the only person in the room who knew what Occam’s Razor was.

  28. Elyse,
    I’d prefer to keep the discussion to non Eastern European/Communist countries, as they’ll throw anyone under the bus to achieve 3 minutes of glory for the Homeland.

    *Most* children would prefer screwing off and doing whatever, but there are those who enjoy the sport because they enjoy it. Again, unless you’ve been there yourself, you wouldn’t understand, child psychologist or not.

    8 hours of training a day is not realistic either, again, if you’ve ever been there, you’d know that by now.

  29. Wait . . . So are we hating gymnastics in this thread? Or is it the parents, or the governments, or the IOC? Who exactly are we blaming for the tiny tiny, non-menstrating, incredibly flexible pixies flipping across my TV screen?

  30. Sam,

    Wait . . . So are we hating gymnastics in this thread? Or is it the parents, or the governments, or the IOC? Who exactly are we blaming for the tiny tiny, non-menstrating, incredibly flexible pixies flipping across my TV screen?

    Well, you’re free to hate what/whomever you’d like in this thread. Personally I’d place the most blame on parents for letting their kids be subjected to that industry and for letting it get so far that they’re injured for life. I blame the coaches who push little girls to destroy their bodies. I blame governments like China’s, who may be changing documents to abuse even younger girls in the name of winning a gold medal. And I blame girls like the Jezebel writer for outright stating that abuse doesn’t matter so long as you win.

  31. This Olympics has been a farce. Half the people I know are boycotting it.

    As a friend of mine said, “Whenever I see the Olympic facilities, all I can do is wonder how many homes were destroyed to build them.”

    On top of all the endurance athletes whose careers will be ended by lung damage from the fucking smog. On top of ongoing human rights abuses by the Chinese government.

    It’s just a farce.

  32. Ballet has a much longer history of abuse, eating disorders as well as life long debilitating injuries for the participants.

    As for politics the Beijing games remind me of Berlin in 1936 except the Chinese have pretty much finished up with the mass killings.

    (And I kicked ass in knowledge bowl back in the day)

  33. The four funniest words in Olympic history are “the sport of trampoline.”
    Personally, I know some people have decided I’m a jerk (or a dweeb) for insisting that figure skating has no place in sports. Any competition in which you’re awarded points for artistic merit simply isn’t a sport.
    My definition of sport would have to include objective measures (e.g., goals scored or time to complete course) and some element of physical skill or ability. So I would say darts is a sport but figure skating isn’t.
    I understand gymnastics events are judged partly on artistic merit, or something like that. So I’d say it doesn’t belong in the Olympics simply because it isn’t a sport.
    And yeah, there’s that whole “creepy” factor.

  34. Wait…does that mean that Marching Band isn’t a sport? There is PLENTY of physicality to marching band. In fact, I have spent many an amusing afternoon watching non-marchers trying to prove that they can do many of the things marchers can. Too bad they can’t.

    Sure, most of it is based on artistic merit…anyone can march, but not everyone can march in such a way to make it look AMAZING.

    So yes…anyone can figure skate, but only those with superior levels of finesse can make it look beautiful.

  35. I agree ballet is worse. I worked for a couple of ballet companies. You can also add suicide to that list of woes, too.

    As far as China and human rights, that needs to be dealt with politically. I don’t know if anyone remembers the 1980 and 1984 boycotts. They changed nothing. The individual athletes who spent years training are the ones that suffered the most not the host country. People that had their only Olympic shot in 1980 were totally shut out of any chance of Olympic competition because of that political decision. Isolation only helps to prolong these practices. Opening up and maintaining communication and developing ties are what turns most oppressive regimes around these days.

    And we may wonder how many homes were destroyed to make way for the Olympics but you have to also wonder, what kind of homes were they. Were they dilapidated? Did those people in those homes wind up in better circumstances? Did they find work they might not have found because of the Olympics? Has there been improvement? Homes are lost for public projects all the time – and better an Olympic Stadium is built than having your perfectly good, habitable house taken by eminent domain and turned over to a commercial developer to increase the tax base like the Supreme Court decided is totally within government’s right.

    Speaking of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, they provided be one of the longest lasting presentations of Hitler being humiliated when Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe cleaned the Germans’ clock by winning gold and silver medals in track . Thanks for making sure that got documented on film, Adolph.

    It may be a mistake to get down specifically on gymnastics and sports anyway. There is this bug some of us get up are ass to ignore danger to accomplish things. In any discipline, extreme measures will be taken to succeed. Humans are like that. You can just as well get down on science because Marie Curie physically killed herself doing her research. It wasn’t just the radiation that injured her for life but also the hours of shoveling tons of potash as well. I recommend reading the “The Radioactive Boy Scout” as an example of youth’s folly – truly highly dangerous folly – and persistence in pursuing science.

    And isn’t it demeaning to suppose that young women in the free world are being forced by mean old men to compete? Are you saying that their parents are incompetent and abusive? Are you saying that by 11 or 12 they are too dumb to say that they don’t want to do it?
    In other places, it may be way out of poverty for them and their family and will make the rest of their lives better and longer despite injuries.

    All I’m saying is that the big picture is way bigger and more complex.

  36. Speaking of the Olympix, did anyone notice this unusual new story today, about a former East German Olympix athlete who won medals during the mid-1980s having a sex change in 1997 as the consequence of all the ‘roids she was given. “He says he had been fed so many steroids by his coaches without his knowledge that physical and emotional problems began….

    Her coaches said they were giving her vitamin pills, but they were actually feeding her Oral-Turinabol anabolic steroids. ”
    http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/08/11/sexchange.athlete/index.html

    That’s quite a price he/she paid for the glory of her father/motherland.

  37. By the time they are 11 or 12, they’ve been mindfucked for three-quarters of their lives about it. They won’t say they don’t want to do it most of the time. Have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome? Does that require starting with a toddler and spending eight years about it? No, it doesn’t.

    Were I so inclined, given the same freedom to instill ideas into someone’s brain in that time span, I could craft you twelve-year old girls who believe the world is fifty years old, the moon is the center of the universe, I am twelve stories tall, that my cat is the Living God, and who will punch themselves repeatedly in face at a gesture from me… and they won’t say they don’t want to do it. Minds are malleable, mcmatz, young minds especially so. If they weren’t, religion would be nearly so prevalent in this world, nor blind “patriotism” nor a host of other screwed-up situations.

    Sure, in some places it may be the lesser evil. Significantly so, in some cases, I’m sure… but only for the ones that succeed. For every girl you see in the Olympics, hundreds went through the same horrors and have nothing to show for it except mangled bodies and minds.

  38. mcmatz,

    You can just as well get down on science because Marie Curie physically killed herself doing her research.

    That’s a very false analogy. Had Marie Curie been six years old and given a lump of radioactive material to play with by parents who knew it might be dangerous, and had she made absolutely no scientific progress for humanity and merely served to improve the ratings for network TV . . . then the situations might be similar.

    And isn’t it demeaning to suppose that young women in the free world are being forced by mean old men to compete?

    No, and especially not if it’s true. Of course, I didn’t say that.

    Are you saying that their parents are incompetent and abusive?

    Incompetent, abusive, ignorant, self-serving, apathetic — there are many possibilities.

    Are you saying that by 11 or 12 they are too dumb to say that they don’t want to do it?

    Too dumb, too young, too indoctrinated, too eager to please, too ignorant of the long-term health effects — again, many possibilities.

    In other places, it may be way out of poverty for them and their family and will make the rest of their lives better and longer despite injuries.

    All I’m saying is that the big picture is way bigger and more complex.

    It is complex, but luckily not so complex as to cloud the obvious point that it is too dangerous an industry for young girls.

  39. I’m afraid to even turn on women’s gymnastics competition. I figure if I tune in to that for more than 5 seconds (the allowable time to comprehend what you’re watching and change the channel out of horror) Chris Hansen would show up on my door.

  40. A few facts.
    1. 16 pre-pubescent. At least drop the “pre”. The term refers to a time before procreation is possible and the average age of menarche is around 13 or less. http://www.mum.org/menarage.htm
    2. A 33 year old gymnast is on Germany’s team. http://www.girlsdigsports.com/germanys-33-year-old-gymnast/
    3. Most people are not boycotting. The opening ceremonies set a record for viewership. http://seat42f.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3054

  41. PaulK,

    1. 16 pre-pubescent. At least drop the “pre”. The term refers to a time before procreation is possible and the average age of menarche is around 13 or less

    Thank you Paul but I think everyone here knows the meaning of “pre-pubescent. I used the term correctly. Intense physical activity can significantly delay the onset of puberty. Here’s a specific study referring to gymnasts:

    There was a delay in skeletal maturation of 1.3 yr (P < 0.001). Pubertal development was following bone age rather than chronological age. The mean age of menarche was significantly delayed from that of their mothers and sisters (P = 0.008 and P = 0.05, respectively), was positively correlated to the intensity of training and to the difference between chronological age and bone age (P < 0.001 and P = 0.002, respectively), and was negatively correlated to body fat (P < 0.001).

    In the elite female rhythmic gymnasts, psychological and somatic efforts have profound effects on growth and sexual development. Despite these aberrations, adult height is not expected to be affected.

    I’m not sure what your #2 and #3 points are addressing.

  42. Rebecca, did you SEE the women’s road race? Not only was it awesomeness, but the result ended up hinging on a mental error made by the breakaway group after the chase rider (who ended up winning) miscalculated a rainy corner. There was heaps of mind games at work.

    The men’s road race was similarly gripping, although it was more a display of Cancellara’s raw power as he buried the chase group and one of the three lead riders in the last few meters. And although I’m sure the winners have been riding bikes since a young age, they were 25 and 30 for the women’s and men’s event.

    It is only the events like gymnastics, sprints, and swimming where guile is not important. In most events, competitors must react to their opponents, the conditions, and the game situation. And it is great to watch that happen at an elite level.

    Oh wait a second. If you’re in America, you must be watching NBC, which only shows the short attention span sports. My apologies. After all, fawning over and talking up the 16 year olds is way more economical than actually putting people out in distant venues for sports run by real men and women.

  43. As someone with, and has come to an appreciation of (and participation in) something resembling high-level athletics past the high school and college lump, and as a cousin of two high-level gymnasts, I feel there’s a lot of smoke going around without much fire.

    1) Anyone who is under the impression you can get to the Olympics without some rather unique mental qualifications, needs some more time on the track/in the pool/on the platform/piste/bar/etc. And by and large, the apparent American cultural war on expertise notwithstanding, people get rewarded for their intellectual achievements on a pretty continuous basis. Taking 17 days every four years to acknowledge the forms of physical expression and competition besides football and baseball that most of the world’s people engage in strike me as reasonable, if not conservative.

    2) Yes, China doesn’t deserve to sit among the world’s free nations by a longshot. They will-and the only way to get there is to talk to them, trade with them, compete with them, and in general wear down the lines. It’s happened economically, and the positive changes in the life of the average Chinese person are overwhelming and undeniable. It will happen politically-but only if the rest of the world continues to demand that China rise to the occasion. Talk to Chinese nationals-they recognize that this is an acknowledgment of the Chinese people and not the Chinese government.

    3) Lastly, I know gymnasts. Two sets of aunts and uncles were parents of national competitors, and even I had a spat on the male side when younger. I’ve hung out in gyms, dated gymnasts, babysat gymnasts, and can say with some certainty that this perception of “stage moms” driving children to physical oblivion via brainwashing (Stockholm Syndrome? Really?) is laughably far from the truth. Do they exist, somewhere? Sure. Met them. Do those competitors make it to the top? Nope. Resentment is a potent obstacle to performance. Would I call their numbers statistically relevant? Again, nope. The more common picture is youngsters asking to be involved in something like dance, discovering they like to tumble, and keeping it up, with parents going out of their way to cheer and coach and support. Most drop out. A few discover that winning is fun. A few of those note that increased devotion yields increased rewards. Most will have their parents try and get them out of the gym more. Some go, some don’t. A few will discover they live at the confluence of natural talent and a strange, undeniable attraction the the focus that the beam or the floor demands, and most of those will have kind, supportive, very concerned parents. I’ve known of more parents encouraging gymnasts to wash than of pushing them to a level they’d rather not go. Because it doesn’t work.

    Do injuries happen? Yep. But tendon tears and breaks happen at a fraction of the incidence they do in soccer, basketball, or anything more mainstream. Do delayed menses occasionally happen? Yes, but not with any frequency considered significant in the medical literature, and happen with equal frequency in the other youth sports. And everything you’ve ever heard about stunting, growth plate fractures, or the rest is really painfully bad science that has finally been peeled back in recent years.

    And, by and large, when you track down these women in their post-competitive days, and they live normal lives. Their bodies are healthier than others their age, because they know how to care for them.

    I think if you took time to befriend athletes at this level, in these sports, the emerging picture isn’t one of shattered bodies and minds whipped along by parents and coaches seeking vicarious success. You’ll see young people of extraordinary focus, making a tough choice every time they show up to practice ( a choice most of them don’t end up making) surrounded by people who care for (and fear for) them.

  44. @Aristothenes – Well done. The ones that -truly- want to be there are the ones that will succeed in the long run. There is the occasional extremist (when is there not?) that will give a bad name to the sport. I feel like China might be pushing it on this aspect, but don’t the Chinese push their children just as hard on the mental front as well?

    @ Rebecca – I think what PaulK was trying to do with point #2 was simply point out that not every single female gymnast is a 16 year old. It is a little upsetting that the gymnasts at 16 are prepubescent though.

  45. I’m pretty disgusted by the fact that girls are “chosen” (*ahem* forced) into their gymnastics training, some at age 3, and are from then on pushed to the point of debilitating mental and physical exhaustion. It really goes for any sport. Parent wants their child to succeed in something because they’ll feel inadequate if they raise a “normal” child and their child reaps the consequences of a life filled with pressure to win and be the best at everything. Not that being the best at something isn’t a positive thing, but it depends on how you get there and what it ultimately costs you. Many of these little girls will spend years training day in and day out only to go to the Olympics once (or not qualify at all and bring shame to their family) and then do nothing but promotional ads for Wheaties and flavored mineral water for the rest of their lives. They will be one-hit-wonders. Is that really worth all of the pain they’ll have forced upon them?

  46. mcmatz: “Speaking of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, they provided be one of the longest lasting presentations of Hitler being humiliated when Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe cleaned the Germans’ clock by winning gold and silver medals in track.”

    This does not affect the gymnastics discussion, but the belief that the Germans were humiliated in the 1936 Olympics is a myth based on American news reports which stressed American wins.

    As host nations often do, Germany won more medals than any other country. Reports are that Hitler was pleased with the outcome and saw it as a sign of German superiority.

    The real story is not as satisfying as the myth…as is often the case.

  47. Ari, I can’t comment on your anecdotal experiences, but I can comment on the facts you cite, which are simply wrong. You stated:

    Do injuries happen? Yep. But tendon tears and breaks happen at a fraction of the incidence they do in soccer, basketball, or anything more mainstream.

    From Gymnastics-related Injuries to Children Treated in Emergency Departments in the United States, 1990–2005:

    CONCLUSIONS. Gymnastics has one of the highest injury rates of all girls’ sports.

    And here’s an article about that paper.

    Do delayed menses occasionally happen? Yes, but not with any frequency considered significant in the medical literature, and happen with equal frequency in the other youth sports.

    That’s just not true. There have been multiple studies looking into specifically the onset of puberty in gymnasts, and they have repeatedly confirmed the fact that it happens often. The study I quoted in my previous response is just one.

  48. That study does place the injury rates as statistically equivalent to soccer, basketball, and cheerleading-which doesn’t strike me as cause for panic. The most commonly displaced metastudy of injury rates in sport was gathered for a study in on weightlifting, and while the web version is a little aged, the physio guys I talk to say the data is largely the same. It places gymnastics at about the same hourly injury rate-but places soccer about 12 times higher-and the largest fraction of those are girls with knee injuries.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/236687/Hamill-1994Relative-safety-of-weightlifting-and-weight-training

    I think focusing the analysis on emergency room visits is misleading-degenerative injuries leading to quality of life issues are not necessarily associated with the obvious risks of fall and collision that gymnastics obviously has, and tend to occur more often in athletes like marathoners than power and strength athletes.

    As for the second-yes, I did go too far. My bad.

    http://bjsm.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/37/6/490

    It should be noted, though, that no one seems to have data on post-competitive bone density, or on comparison to other youth sports-in other words, whether it has long term health effects or is an effect unique to gymnastics. Given that the youth effects of a sport associated with similar physical effects, and closest to my heart-Olympic weightlifting-have been found to be entirely spurious, I have suspicions.

    I apologize for any intellectual overreaching I may have committed, and don’t want to give the impression of being some kind of unwavering apologist. Far, far from it. Sports are dangerous, some more than others, and the costs involved in some are often too high for most competitors. I just bristle a little, as a former anti-athleticist (new term?) when I hear people seemingly assuming that anyone involved in hard, painful, dangerous sport, is crazy, stupid, or mercilessly whipped. If people can willfully begin to something as generally bad as cocaine, I find no cause to believe that people can willfully engage in something as generally good as sport.

    Again, sorry if I was rabid, or misstated the facts. Thanks for the studies, and the discussion.

  49. I feel compelled to point out that until Pierre de Coubertin came along, the Olympics were nude.

    Now, while I’m not going to defend gymnastics, I feel compelled to defend my own turf, since my a scientific research project involves elite athletes.

    Elite sport, and the Olympics in particular, have a very important role in science. First, they provide an important opportunity to study the limits of the human body. Second, they provide a way to develop new technologies very cheaply.

    Suppose, for example, that you have a multi-use technology that could be used in, say, health care or in elite sport. Testing it in health care requires endless paperwork, ethics committees, money and hassle. Testing it in sport is cheap: you just need to convince the relevant coaches and biomechanists that your technology might be helpful.

    So sport is a kind of “gateway application”. It lets you develop new technology for a greatly reduced cost. You can then go to the trouble of applying it to other areas, like health, with a greater confidence that it will work.

  50. On the bright side of women’s gymnastics this cycle, I’m super excited about Oksana Chusovitina, who is on the German team, and is 33. I don’t know anything about how she’s done, but the fact that’s she’s there is awesome.

    I’m a gymnast myself, although I’ve never done any competition. I’ve mostly worked women’s events, just because that’s the equipment that parks and recs gymnastics programs are going to have, and I’ve gotten the chance to work men’s events some, and I will say this: women’s events are a lot more fun.

  51. Any human being who has the opportunity to follow his or her passion, assuming no intentional harm to self or others, should do so if that is their want.

    Unfortunately, “renaissance” men and women are rare. Often, brilliance is associated with sacrifice. In my opinion – no studies shall be sited here – the socially impaired, chess genius is not inferior nor superior to the elite college basketball player whose grades are a charade ( yes, both are stereotypes ). I deplore the parent who subjegates his child to sport or academia. I deplore a country who does the same.

    If the passion is that of the individual I shall always applaud their olympic effort or academic effort, but I applaud even louder for those who challenge both their minds and bodies. I am a fan of diversity. Moreover, those who have acheived a level excellence , yet challenge themselves at something they might fail at I admire most.

    Before heading off to college , my son excelled as a junior and a senior in our state’s Academic Decathalon tournament, helping lead his team to national competition. As a junior he also wanted to join the swim team as well. Unfortunately, he really couldn’t swim. So he took swim lessons ; fortunately for him all those wanting to be on the swim team could be on the swim team. As a junior he won gold medals in AD. As a junior he came in last every race he swam. As a senior, he won first place overall as well as many other medals in AD. As a senior, in his last race, my son finished NOT last. He actually finished somewhere in the middle.

    I’m not certain which brought me ( or him ) more happiness – his first-place rewarded passion for academics ( his natural gift ) and the hard work he put into it or his not-last-place rewarded success for accepting the challenge of possible total failure and the hard work he put into that challenge ( a very unnatural task for him ).

    Watching my very bright son actually look like a swimmer thrilled me. He accepted the difficult task head on and gained a newfound skill and a sense of accomplishment that will serve him well as he moves foward in his future career in bioengineering.

    As a pediatrician I have often said that pediatrics would be easy if it weren’t for parents. Domineering parents shouldn’t be parents. Period. Domineering countries shouldn’t be countries. Period. Yet, both will probably always exist. I think it’s very possible to enjoy the olympics for it’s dedication to excellence , while criticizing politics, and bemoaning overbearing parents and ridiculing the treachery involved in some sport – all at the same time. Passion is passion and joy is joy. And the realization of both are often in full view in the olympics. I’ll always watch. I’ll also always counsel the parents of my children to allow the child’s passion to be their guide, not the parent’s. The world will never be simple. Neither will sport.

  52. Aristothenes and halincoh: I am so with you and thank you for your responses!

    In response to the response:

    “And isn’t it demeaning to suppose that young women in the free world are being forced by mean old men to compete? ”
    ———————————————————–
    No, and especially not if it’s true. Of course, I didn’t say that.

    To quote exactly ,”Old men pushing girls’ frail little prepubescent bodies far beyond their limits, causing serious injuries that last a lifetime.”

    I apologize for the misunderstanding on my part. I interpreted that sentence as meaning that old men were being cruel to fragile young girls with no will of their own by indoctrinating them into the belief that the delicate flowers that they are must compete. Thus the old men are causing permanent damage to the fragile girls.
    I also take away from this quote that you do consider girls “frail” and easily damaged.
    Which I find both condescending and demeaning.
    Hey, let’s get rid of that section 9 thing and keep our girls safe! After all, sports should only be for tough little boys!
    Every sport at every level has its dangers.

    “You can just as well get down on science because Marie Curie physically killed herself doing her research.
    ————————————————————
    That’s a very false analogy. Had Marie Curie been six years old and given a lump of radioactive material to play with by parents who knew it might be dangerous, and had she made absolutely no scientific progress for humanity and merely served to improve the ratings for network TV . . . then the situations might be similar.”

    It is a false analogy and not one I was making. My point was that humans are compelled to strive to do what they consider to be great things and on the way may continue on heedless of personal injury – whether 6 or 60. This is true in science as much as it is in sports.
    And I don’t think most of the athletes or their parents are concerned about TV ratings.

    “Are you saying that their parents are incompetent and abusive?
    ———————————————————-
    Incompetent, abusive, ignorant, self-serving, apathetic — there are many possibilities.”

    WOW! That is quite the blanket judgment. I guess all those parents working two jobs and driving around for hours because their child actually wants to compete and pleads to take lessons and training should have their child taken away. Let’s round up Michael Phelps’ mother right now! He started training at 11yo and was in Olympic competition at 14yo and you know boys mature later than girls so he must be a mental and physical mess. Oh, right, he just won another gold medal tonight and the next hour qualified for another race by beating the Olympic record.

    ” Are you saying that by 11 or 12 they are too dumb to say that they don’t want to do it?
    ———————————————————-
    Too dumb, too young, too indoctrinated, too eager to please, too ignorant of the long-term health effects — again, many possibilities.”

    Again, with the blanket assumptions. You think all kids will get indoctrinated into something and go along with it? Some may but I remember 12yo and that’s the beginning of the rebel age. I think you are underestimating kids a whole lot.

    ” In other places, it may be way out of poverty for them and their family and will make the rest of their lives better and longer despite injuries.

    All I’m saying is that the big picture is way bigger and more complex.
    ————————————————————
    It is complex, but luckily not so complex as to cloud the obvious point that it is too dangerous an industry for young girls.

    The point is not at all obvious. You are assuming it is obvious because it is what you believe.
    And dangerous relative to what? Playing softball? Playing soccer? To riding in a car? Riding a horse? Taking a shower?
    And in a communist country, it certainly is more complex. Baryshnikov would probably never have had the opportunity to dance or to make it to the USA without the help of the system that selected him at a early age and made him their showpiece. For those 2/3rds of Chinese living in rural areas at subsistence levels, it can give their child a way out of menial, backbreaking work by funneling them into the state programs.
    It ain’t a great option but you do have to consider the circumstances.
    Life is very gray.

    I am just shocked and disappointed that you are not actually being skeptical and are not looking farther than the surface and then make blanket judgments and statements. It seems very knee-jerk. Where’s the proof?

  53. Aristothenes, try not to take this personally, but when it comes to anecdotal evidence, I’m going to take Sey, a former national champion, over an anonymous person on the internet.

    No one here is saying ALL gymnasts are being abused in this way anyway. We’re just saying too many.

    Anyone blaming the sport in an of itself, is just wrong. Blame the coaches and the parents, and in some cases, the nations which treat the girls this way. Yes, crap like this happens in a lot of other sports as well. That doesn’t make it anything like better.

  54. I love watching the Olympics, right from the opening ceremonies. We had a great four hours the other night at a sports bar heckling every stupid thing that came out of Bob Costas’ mouth (and Costas Mocking, while not worthy of being an Olympic event, is definitely a cardio activity — you get your heart pumping just trying to keep up with him).

    But the girl’s gymnastics (and to a slightly lesser degree, figure skating) is a bit creepy. The muscle development in those kids is astonishing. And you listen to Costas or one of the backup Costasians giving each girl’s life story, it’s always the same — pulled out of school, sometimes moved to someplace like Texas to be with a top coach or near Sam Ogden, pretty much living at the gym. Pathetic.

    I don’t think anyone here is trying to say that athletic activity is bad for kids, but nothing is good when pushed to extremes. I have a 13-year-old niece who plays tennis, and she’s extremely good. She’s not living at the courts, but only because my brother-in-law has to keep his day job.

    But she’s more than a tennis player — she is an outlet for her dad’s own unrealized athletic dreams. She spent every weekend on the road last summer, until just before school started and she exploded at her parents, which earned her a two-week break from tennis (and a two-week grounding for yelling at her dad). She was here visiting for a few days recently, and she was the happiest I’d seen her in three years because she had broken her pinky and couldn’t play for a month.

    (As a loving uncle, I told her that a busted kneecap is an even longer recovery, and knee problems can recur. Now I can’t find my hammer…)

    She HATES tennis. She hates having no down time, hates not being able to hang out with her friends, and hates how her dad is angry with her when she doesn’t win a match he thinks she should have. She’s still doing it because she’s 13 and has no choice, and it’s easier to live at home with a happy dad than an angry dad. (Unfortunately for my B-i-L, she’s on her way to being a total knockout, and the first time tennis interferes with her having a date, the racket gets tossed.)

    I go see her play when she has a tourney in the area, and talk to the other parents sometimes. My brother-in-law does not seem to be atypical, according to my unscientific data collection.

    My point is that whether or not there are long-term medical problems, there are a lot of parents willing to treat their kids like prize-winning show dogs. Worse, since winning Wimbledon is a bigger payout than winning at the Westminster Kennel Club. And like the dogs, the children don’t get a vote. To quote Dr. Cox: “Okay, Jack, earn daddy’s love on three. 1 2 3!”

  55. Former Olympic oarsman turned BBC journalist Sir Matthew Pinsent got into some hot water when he reported that the Chinese gymnastic training methods looked a lot like child abuse to him. I think he knows something of the obsession required to win Olympic gold…

  56. I think too much attention and repect (or awe ) is given towards professional sports. Way back in 5th grade, I started to think that it was absurd that people good at playing games were called heroes. Why should a good ball player get so much attention , admiration and pay compared to say a good doctor? I have heard many people over the years at work say they wanted their kids to be pro athletes when they grew up. (so many think their average little kid is a superstar). I don’t remember ever hearing one say they want their kid to become famous for finding a cure to some disease or making some important scientific innovation.

  57. JOHNEA13: “Why should a good ball player get so much attention , admiration and pay compared to say a good doctor?”

    Well, in the case of the pay, athletes get it because people happily shell out a lot of hard earned money on professional sports while those same people expect healthcare to be free.

  58. How young are the boys competing? They seem to be older. I would say that this is comparable to ballet school. Hartford CT has a very good ballet school where the young girls live at the school. I know many of the top gymnastic girls live with their trainers. Certainly this is true in China, and even the commentators said that one Chinese athlete DID beg her parents to let her quit and come home. This was during the floor exercises. The end of the commentary was “boy Ill bet she’s glad now that her parents didn’t bring her home!”

    I guess the ice skating must be the same.

    I have a young friend that is most likely going to be competing in the Olympics in 4 years if she keeps performing the way she does. Tessa won the junior world gold for rowing. She hasn’t been rowing since age 3 (she just took it up when she hit high school). But she has played sports her entire life (mainly hockey). She’s loved it. She’s also blessed with being a 6 footer and having great oxygen exchange ratio (it’s not just training , it’s genetics also). Her parents are also happy athletes. She’s compete even if she came in last place, because she loves to do ANYTHING athletic. Competition has taught her a lot about self discipline and self control. Plus her mom once commented with such a TALL girl at such an early age, “its athletics or modelling… or else she’ll be tripping over her feet for the rest of her life!” Happily athletics won out.

    Athletics are great, but doing it for a medal isn’t. But having a LOT of people come to China is GOOD. If old reruns of the tv show “Dallas” could topple the repressive dictatorship in Romania, maybe enough tourists with Iphones can open up China.

  59. mxracer,

    Rebecca,
    Prove that gymnastics, specifically at the elite female level, encourages anorexia, no friends, no outside interests, etc.

    Anorexia is easy enough. I’ve already quoted several studies but here are a few more:
    1.
    The results suggest that athletes do, in fact, have a higher prevalence of eating disorders than non-athletes. However, it is not so much being an athlete that places an individual at increased risk for developing an eating disorder; rather it is athletes competing in sports which emphasise the importance of a thin body shape or a low body weight who appear to be particularly vulnerable.

    2.
    The prevalence of EDs is higher in athletes than in controls, higher in female athletes than in male athletes, and more common among those competing in leanness-dependent and weight-dependent sports than in other sports.

    +++
    As for elite-level training prohibiting time for other interests and playing with friends, that gets a big “duh.” Search around to see what that kind of commitment is like. Here’s a Level 4 girl (elite comes after Level 10) at the age of 7 who is expected to devote 17 hours/week to training. Here’s a revealing article from a school that trains gymnasts:

    Allison Eudy, a gymnast coach, said the average competitive gymnast at TEGA will spend up to 20 hours per week practicing in the gym.

    “These girls put in a large time commitment into the sport, and that is definitely required to be a competitive gymnast,” said Eudy. “It is not a seasonal sport like a lot of the others. (Gymnasts) actually practice year round. Really, if you take time off, it is often detrimental to your gymnastics.”

    Daily routine of a gymnast

    7 a.m.: Wake up
    8 a.m.: Go to school
    3:20 p.m.: Get out of school and prepare for gymnastic practice
    4:30 p.m.: Attend gymnastic practice. Warm-up and stretch. Practice routines and different events.
    8 p.m.: Leave gymnastic practice and get ready for bed.

    That’s every weekday, year round, for many years. I suppose they have a few weekends and hours in the summertime, when not training or traveling to competitions. That’s like having a full-time job when you’re 12-years old — a job that requires you to diet, stave off puberty, and submit to constant scrutiny and the pressure of competition.

  60. mcmatz:

    In response to the response:

    “And isn’t it demeaning to suppose that young women in the free world are being forced by mean old men to compete? ”
    ———————————————————–
    No, and especially not if it’s true. Of course, I didn’t say that.

    To quote exactly ,”Old men pushing girls’ frail little prepubescent bodies far beyond their limits, causing serious injuries that last a lifetime.”

    I apologize for the misunderstanding on my part. I interpreted that sentence as meaning that old men were being cruel to fragile young girls with no will of their own by indoctrinating them into the belief that the delicate flowers that they are must compete. Thus the old men are causing permanent damage to the fragile girls.
    I also take away from this quote that you do consider girls “frail” and easily damaged.
    Which I find both condescending and demeaning.
    Hey, let’s get rid of that section 9 thing and keep our girls safe! After all, sports should only be for tough little boys!
    Every sport at every level has its dangers.

    Pre-pubescent girls who weight 80 or 90 lbs are frail. I already provided plenty of research to back up the point — gymnastics is very dangerous to young girls’ bodies. Calling that fact sexist is a last-ditch effort to distract from the point.

    It is a false analogy and not one I was making. My point was that humans are compelled to strive to do what they consider to be great things and on the way may continue on heedless of personal injury – whether 6 or 60. This is true in science as much as it is in sports.

    Then your point was not germane to the conversation. It means nothing to point out that an adult scientist took a risk for science and also a 6-year old takes a risk for gym class.

    WOW! That is quite the blanket judgment.

    Yes it is. You asked for a blanket judgment, offering me two choices for why a parent might subject their child to that industry. I added a few more reasons and said there were many reasons.

    I guess all those parents working two jobs and driving around for hours because their child actually wants to compete and pleads to take lessons and training should have their child taken away.

    Do you recognize your strawman fallacy here? I never said anything about taking children away.

    Again, with the blanket assumptions.

    Again, you asked.

    The point is not at all obvious. You are assuming it is obvious because it is what you believe.

    I’ve quoted a large number of studies. You’ve appealed to emotion, created strawmen, and overall just dumped a whole lot of watered-down snark into a comment box. Apparently you’re not even reading the studies, or else you never would have asked these questions:

    And dangerous relative to what? Playing softball? Playing soccer? To riding in a car? Riding a horse? Taking a shower?

    …because you would have already seen that gymnastics IS more dangerous than those things (except perhaps riding in a car, which is a senseless comparison to make as it is vastly less avoidable than training for elite gymnastics).

    Also, had you read my previous responses, you’d never have written this:

    Where’s the proof?

    …which is possibly the worst thing you could have asked in a thread where I’ve backed up my position with immense amounts of proof, while you’ve offered nothing in return.

  61. As I was getting caught up reading the comments in this thread today, I couldn’t help but notice that we seem to be overlooking the concepts of passion and obsession somewhat.

    I mean, I understand it’s natural to villify someone or something when we see young people in apparent dangerous situations. And I think this is definitely a serious issue. But I don’t know that there is a complete understanding of the athletic mind by many of us, and there should be before we pass judgement.

    Now, I’m not going to try to refute the studies that say female gymnasts suffer the most injuries or that proper physical development is delayed due to the training. I don’t know anything about that, and it may very well be the case. But I would hesitate to place blame solely on the parents and coaches in this situation — at least in western countries. I’ve been an athlete my entire life, and I understand the passion and the unadulterated joy that people get from sports and athletic competition. Not only that, but I can tell you I’ve seen it firsthand in female gymnasts.

    Romanian gymnastics legend, Bela Karolyi (sp?), after coaching Nadia Comaniche (sp?) to the gold in 1976, moved to my home town of Houston. Shortly thereafter, Mary Lou Retton won gold (1984), and gymnasts came from all over the country to Houston, trying to get into Bela’s school. They were lined up for blocks trying to get into his program. There were waiting lists and several off-shoot schools sprang up in the area because of the influx. As far as I could tell, that enthusiasm lasted until Bela retired. And from what I gather, that type of enthusiasm for the sport was alive in the US even before the media brought gymnastics into the mainstream with Bela and Mary Lou.

    Of course, a handful of the girls were no doubt prodded by their parents to get into gymnastics, because they saw Mary Lou on a Wheaties box, but just as many, if not more, were there because the girls themselves wanted it so badly. Just yesterday, a co-worker of mine who has four daughters told me his girls bugged him so much two years ago to get into gymnastics, that he finally caved, and he’s been pulling duty as a gymnastics dad ever since.

    I remember seeing news footage of girls in tears because they weren’t accepted into Bela’s school or because they were cut from one team or another. The passion for the sport, to me, was and is genuine.

    I know there has been talk of “indoctrination” in this thread, but I don’t think that concept applies to athletics in the same way it does to religious traditions. I’ve seen too many kids whose parents tried to “indoctrinate” them into sports burn out completely and rebel so fiercely against the “indoctrination” that they quit athletics altogether. In fact, I’d wager stage mothers/fathers are the exception, not the rule. If anything, the parent’s become “indoctrinated” moreso than the children.

    But what is it that drives that attitude?

    Well, I can’t speak for all athletes, but there’s just something primal and deeply satisfying about using our physical abilities at peak capacity and within a competetive framework, even though from a survival standpoint, we really don’t need them much anymore. For the average athlete, it’s not about domination or, on a certain level, even winning. It’s about motion, and the feeling of instantly processing sensory input to make the proper reaction, and overcoming obstacles, and reaching goals. And most importantly, it’s about fun.

    There is great joy associated with athletics, just as for some there is great joy in more cerebral endeavors. And I think when people discover that, no matter their age, it’s something they want to experience regularly. Just consider any healthy obsession you have, whether it’s sports or something more geeky, like role playing games or surfing the Internet. Can you blame someone for that obsession? And if you could, would it even matter?

    The point of all this is, young girls deserve to develop into healthy people free of danger and traumatic influences. There’s no arguing that. But perhaps we should strive for a fuller understanding of cases like this before we villify a parent, coach, or even a sport.

  62. Let me clarify something I meant to add awhile back, but am reminded by Sam’s comment: when I say I’d place some blame on the parents, I do not mean that I only blame those parents who push their kids into the sport. I’m sure (and I did read a study that suggests) most of the parents of gymnasts don’t pressure their kids to move on to elite training. That pressure comes from the coaches as well as the kids themselves.

    However, it is ultimately a parent’s responsibility to say “no.” Just because a preteen girl says she wants to train for 20 hours a day, it does not mean that is what will be best for her physical, mental, or emotional well-being. In fact, as I’ve stated again and again, in all likelihood it is NOT good for her at all.

    Today I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would do if I had a little girl who practiced gymnastics, who showed a love of it and a talent for it, and who had a coach who was urging her to move toward professional training while still a preteen. Obviously it’s just a hypothetical, but I can state without a doubt in my mind that the correct thing for me to do would be to say “no.” “No” to intensive training, “no” to competing in competitions across the country, and “no” to aiming for Olympic trials at the age of 14. Once she’s well into her teens, I’d do my best to support whatever she wanted to focus on. Prior to that, I’d do my best to ensure that she didn’t grow up with such a single-minded intensity. It’s very possible to satisfy a child’s love of sports and competition without allowing them to turn it into a career.

  63. Obviously it’s just a hypothetical, but I can state without a doubt in my mind that the correct thing for me to do would be to say “no.” “No” to intensive training, “no” to competing in competitions across the country, and “no” to aiming for Olympic trials at the age of 14.

    I like to think I could make the correct choice, too, but I’ve never had children, so I don’t know how easy or difficult it would be to say no to a child who loves something so much.

    In related news, you all can see my good friend, Riley Salmon, currently competing on the US mens indoor volleyball team. Riley and I played volleyball a lot on the beach together before he became a superstar in the indoor game. He’s a great example of someone with passion for the game. We played on many crappy beaches in poor conditions with no one around but the players. I saw him play in tiny little gyms with no one watching but his girlfriend and the janitor. I can say with all confidence that Riley would still be playing volleyball even if there were no such thing as the Olympics. The passion is that deep.

    Of course, he’s an adult now, but I first played against him on the beach when he was 13 or 14.

  64. I’m writing this having not read all the comments and will take a slightly different angle. I am the father of two daughters, age 4 and 6, and they LOVE gymnastics. Right now they go once a week for an hour, and we might move that to twice a week. But not only do I not have any aspirations that they would be competitive in gymnastics, even on the local level, I wouldn’t choose that if I had the choice. You just have to spend to much time in the sport, especially at the higher levels. I would prefer my child be a child and grow up in moderation in everything, friends, games, food, athletics, education, hobbies. I think it will make for a more fulfilling life. A world class athlete at 16 probably means she never had a childhood apart from that sport. And everything I just said, multiply it by 10 when it comes to a child movie star or singer. It so funny watching parents trying to get their children to be famous, because even if it worked I think that would be a bad thing.

    BTW, in response to an earlier comment, I would LOVE if my children were to grow up and make some huge scientific discovery. Indeed, if I had my choice of career path for my two children, it would be scientists for both of them. But I have no intention to force my children into anything, I will be happy with whatever makes them happy.

  65. I didn’t read any of the comments, but I think you’re overreacting a bit . . .

    The fact that these girls can do these flips and tumbles for me is nothing short of miraculous. That is, until I see Michael Phelps and the men’s team breaking records left and right and Misty May and Kerri Walsh destroying the sand courts. again. No one argues that they are training too hard or too long.

    Sports are all about pushing ourselves and seeing if just maybe we can do it a little faster or a little higher or a little longer. We can do it, we just don’t know it yet.

    Those girls are incredibly well trained and in spectacular shape. Of course if you or I (the lowly graduate student) made the misstep you were referring to, we would kill ourselves. WE don’t have the kind of balance and agility these girls have worked most of their lives to attain. I bet none of them will regret the experience, either.

    And what do they get out of it? What does any Olympic athlete get out of it? Michael Phelps is not going to retire to a swimming pool where people will spend hundreds of dollars to see him swim. Short of the NBA players, none of them will.

    But just like anything, the sport is not perfect. There’s corruption and awful things going on, and I’ve heard more than once that the Karoli’s aren’t the most upstanding coaches. Perhaps it needs a revamping or a more watchful eye, but it doesn’t mean the whole sport is worthless, and it’s surely not enough to prevent one from watching the entirety of the games. That’s just seems a little bitter.

    We can’t argue that the sport is corrupt, because we have no idea how it works and what is normal and acceptable and possible. Now if Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller, etc. came out and claimed the sport was awful and no young girls should enter it, I’d be all for abolishing it.

    I just think maybe we don’t understand it all that well–just like when the politicians attack stem cell research or when people are afraid of the chemicals in my lab or when the news media isn’t quite solid of what we mean when we use the word ‘carbon’ so frequently . . . whoa there huckleberry, come on back to the stable.

  66. Thanks Pete_, your thoughts are pretty much exactly in line with mine.

    kendallcorner, I was going to respond but it seems hopeless because you’ve misunderstood so much. Wait, I’ll hit a few highlights:

    The fact that these girls can do these flips and tumbles for me is nothing short of miraculous. That is, until I see Michael Phelps and the men’s team breaking records left and right and Misty May and Kerri Walsh destroying the sand courts. again. No one argues that they are training too hard or too long.

    Because they’re adults? In sports that don’t cause nearly as many injuries?

    Perhaps it needs a revamping or a more watchful eye, but it doesn’t mean the whole sport is worthless, and it’s surely not enough to prevent one from watching the entirety of the games. That’s just seems a little bitter.

    And that just seems a little like you didn’t read my post. Because I didn’t say I wasn’t watching the entirety of the games because of girls’ gymnastics.

    Now if Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller, etc. came out and claimed the sport was awful and no young girls should enter it, I’d be all for abolishing it.

    Plenty of ex-gymnasts have come out against the sport, like Jen Sey and Dominque Moceanu. I’m not sure why their opinions matter to you less than Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller.

    I just think maybe we don’t understand it all that well

    Now’s your chance to go back and read the many, many studies I’ve linked to throughout these comments and perhaps to do a bit of PubMedding yourself.

  67. I’ve seen the Moceanu interview. She coaches gymnastics. Her point is that it can be done better ways than they way she was given. Thus my statement of revamping and the watchful eye. And I haven’t read Chalked Up, but Jen Sey’s statement doesn’t sound like the book condemns women’s gymnastics or like it is even entirely about gymnastics.

    My point is that we are not 16 year old girls or 16 year old girls’ parents or 16 year old girls’ coaches or 16 year old girls’ doctors, so we don’t know what they can handle and what they can’t, and point a finger at *all* of them is just a little overboard.

    Sorry if I misread your first couple of paragraphs–the men’s 4×100 was just so awesome I didn’t see why anyone could have not wanted to watch it ;-)! If you do find yourself feeling ambivalent toward swimming, just go watch that clip on NBC. awesome.

    Anyway I now understand that gymnastics is why you hate the Olympics instead of why you don’t watch it. If you just replace ‘watching’ with ‘not hating’ in that sentence, it sounds terrible, but I think the point still stands . . .

    But I’m not offended to be told to do some pubmedding. I, after all, didn’t read any of the comments . . .

  68. After reading this thread I must add a final 2 cents worth. First of all, kudos to Pete and many others for reinforcing the role of parents. We are the final defense against stupidity ( unfortunately, all too often, parents are also the initial offenders ). Also, kudos to Rebecca for staying true to her perspective and backing it with good research. Again, parents MUST parent effectively. Regarding coaches, yes, there are great coaches and there are bad coaches out there. Unfortunately many great coaches in all sports have tunnel vision in that they only see the world through that specific sport’s perspective. This works great for a professional coach, where adults have made a career choice to participate in that highest level of competition. I have taught safety course to little league coaches in baseball. I have been the sideline doc for little league and highschool football. I have even been the doc for amateur boxing. Many, many coaches ACTIVELY practice tunnel vision. On one occasion I rushed to evaluate a high school football player who collapsed at the end of the half ( he was simply a tad dehydrated and did very well ), but I was essentially accosted by his coach for he feared that I would enforce his removal from the game. Though this is an exception, it’s sadly not a rarity. Amazingly, the staff that best cared for their young men were the boxing coaches. Again , excellent people are everywhere. So are nimrods. But regardless of who coaches, the parents must make the ultimate decision.

    Finally, the attacks on Rebecca are ridiculous. Participating in rigorous sport at an ELITE level if you are a girl is indeed frought with pitfalls. There is an entity called the “FAT” syndrome: female athlete triad. This specifically describes any young female who exercises to the extreme while limiting calories ( ballet, gymnastics and any endeavour that favors tininess are culprits ) to the extreme resulting in 1) eating disorders, 2) cessation or prevention of menstruation, and 3) osteoporosis. The effects of this can be lifelasting. Treatment is medical, nutritional, and psychological intervention. If a young women is immersed in a world in which her entire self esteem is based on this body type, guess how easy this is to treat?

    Say what you want about Buddhists, but it was probably they who said “everything in moderation” ( except that said it in some much cooler, kung fuish manner ), but they’re right.

    That said … I still like watching the Olympics. But it doesn’t prevent me from understand the pros and cons of such intense endeavours.

  69. My wife and I are considering whether or not to enroll our daughters in a gymnastics – does that make us bad parents?

    While we might harbor some secret Olympic dreams for them, we also want them to grow up to be astronauts, Presidents, CEOs, rock stars, etc. We are after all parents.

    As a parent considering an activities for my kids, I evaluate them on safety, my kids’ enjoyment, and what they will get out of it that they can take with them in life (and cost … somewhat).

    I agree with the safety concerns and if we have them participate, you can be darn sure we will monitor things closely.

    Enjoyment – based on their current play gym class, they love climbing, tumbling, balancing, etc. etc. etc. They are eager to give it a try and I’d rather have them learn to do tumbling properly than to hurt themselves trying to do stuff they haven’t been taught.

    But the part that may tip the scales for us to have them learn gymnastics over something else is my wife’s positive experience as a gymnast herself. As she said to me – as a girl, if you can do physical things that around you can’t do, can’t even come close, it gives you an uncommon amount of courage and confidence in what you are capable of. Am I worried about physical injuries and unreasonable pressures? Absolutely, but I also want to raise daughters that believe in themselves and believe in their abilities (I’m also teaching them magic so they have the basics of skepticism from an early age).

    In short, being a parent (if you are doing it right or at least trying to) is hard work and a lot of judgement calls. What do I tell my four year old when she asks me about death? At what point, do I measure a fever and rush them to a doctor at 2am? And do the benefits of a well run gymnastics program outweigh the risks (and when our son grows up do I let him play football or wrestle – lots of neck injuries in wrestling)? They are hard decisions. Ain’t parenting fun?

    So just to be devil’s advocate – if we took a vote, (when they are old enough) should I send my kids to gymnastics camp or Bible camp … endanger their body or their mind …

  70. I’m just going to point out that these adults that some are arguing are ok to compete *because* they’re adults were kids once and trained just as much. So when the 16 year olds become older does that mean we’re ok with it then?

    I’m not arguing for any point here (I’m rather ambivalent about the whole thing), but it just strikes me as funny that people are arguing “well they’re adults!” as if the athletes hadn’t been training since they were young. Michael Phelps started when he was what? 11?

  71. I wonder how many of those cheerleading injuries have to do with flipping and jumping around and falling from high places… Wait… aren’t those the places where cheerleading and gymnastics overlap?

  72. I personally look back on my sports involvement in middle school ad high school and wish I’d spent all that time on other things like playing more golf, which I still engage in at every opportunity, and playing more music and learning different instruments and more art… . As a parent of two teenage children my wife and I have tried to have our children engage in sports and activities that can be life long interests and avocations and have intentionally avoided high impact and high risk sports because of the life long joint problems that can be the payoff for a few years of high level youth competition. Then again my daughter has been at the ER twice because of riding accidents. And when my wife rides also there’s not much I can do about my equine safety concerns except to demand riding helmets.

  73. Rystefn:

    I wonder how many of those cheerleading injuries have to do with flipping and jumping around and falling from high places… Wait… aren’t those the places where cheerleading and gymnastics overlap?

    Indeed, the researchers said this:

    “A major factor in this increase has been the change in cheerleading activity, which now involves gymnastic-type stunts,” Mueller said.

    Of course, we all knew that thanks to Bring It On. Seriously I love that movie.

    Oh, and gymnastics was #2 in injuries behind cheerleading in that study. Combined with the study I quoted earlier, it’s a compelling case.

  74. From the release:
    “A major factor in this increase has been the change in cheerleading activity, which now involves gymnastic-type stunts,” Mueller said. “If these cheerleading activities are not taught by a competent coach and keep increasing in difficulty, catastrophic injuries will continue to be a part of cheerleading.”
    and
    “Between 1982 and 2007, there were 103 fatal, disabling or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with the vast majority (67) occurring in cheerleading. No other sports registered double-figure tallies; gymnastics (9) and track (7) had the 2nd and 3rd highest totals, respectively.”

    It may not be the gymnastic moves by themselves but more an issue of untrained coaches contributing to the injuries.

  75. I just read the previous comments.
    The second half of the Mueller quote is assessment mentioning the element of coaching is significant in cheerleading. Many high school teams have a faculty member not trained in physical education or gymnastics sponsoring them.
    It is also important to note that although gymnastics is cited as being second, cheerleading was first at 66.7%. Even if gymnastics accounted for all the rest of the injuries 33.33%, it would be half of the cheerleading injuries.

    Here’s a study similar to the cited gymnastic study.
    In the discussion there are some relevant numbers on injuries per 1000:
    “Based on national estimates of the number of injuries reported to the NEISS in 2003 and the number of participants reported by American Sports Data, Inc4 for 2003, the annual injury rate per 1000 6- to 17-year-old participants for cheerleading (7.5) was lower than that reported for several other popular sports: football (29.3), basketball (20.3), and baseball (15.7).”

  76. Yes, I saw that the researcher called out the possibility of untrained coaches and increasing difficulty making things worse. I simply pointed out that combined with the other studies, it’s compelling.

    You’ve done a good job of illustrating how dangerous another sport related to gymnastics is, but I’m not sure how that fits into your overall point. Or what that point is, actually . . .

  77. Surely the point is to be skeptical about claims, especially if they involve numbers. In response to the claim “X is dangerous”, it’s entirely correct to point out “actually, X is not nearly as dangerous as Y, but we don’t seem to have a problem with Y; moreover, you’re not taking into account factors A, B and C, and the examples given are not typical, and here are the numbers to prove it”.

    (I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened here. I’m just saying that this is an appropriate skeptical response.)

    One of my favourite counter-intuitive examples (culled from my career doing research with elite athletes) is that medical groups around the world want to get rid of the sport of boxing because of the risk of head injuries.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but it’s a valid counter-objection to point out that boxing isn’t as dangerous in this respect as some other sports.

    First, you need to distinguish between professional boxing and amateur boxing. A professional boxing match is done for insane amounts of money, and as such, there is no incentive to stop the fight if one of the participants is going to get seriously hurt. Amateur boxing (such as that performed at the Olympics), as well as using protective headgear, has in its rules that matches are stopped under those conditions.

    Second, (amateur) boxing isn’t even close to being the sport with the highest proportional incidence of head injuries. It has nothing on sports which have the risk of a dangerous crash (e.g. cycling, motor racing, horse racing, skiing, skateboarding) or the various codes of football which involve contact but which are played without protective headgear (e.g. rugby, Australian rules).

    This is not to say that boxing is all okay and perfectly safe, just that it’s reasonable to ask why that particular sport is singled out when other, more dangerous, sports are ignored.

  78. When I was the sideline doc for amateur boxing I worked incredibly close with the ref. We would often make eye contact during a fight. If I felt a fighter was in danger, the ref would acknowledge my look or my nod and the fight would end. 99% of the time we were on the same page anyway. Safety was rule number one. Between rounds I would quickly evaluate both young men. Occasionally a fight would stop because of those between round assessments. Never once was there an argument.

    I did one professional fight. It was an exhibition. I did the pre fight physicial and my instructions afterwards was “do not come near the fighters unless we call you in.” Safety at the pro level is at the soul discretion of the managers and the ref. Tis a HUGE difference.

  79. “Pre-pubescent girls who weight 80 or 90 lbs are frail.”

    huh??? I’m just sitting here,eating my tuna sandwich, catching up on two weeks of missed entries, reading the comments. I have to say,though, I am 31 years old, 5’9″, and am only about 25 pounds heavier than 90 pounds. When I was 12, I was most certainly not even close to 90 pounds. And I ran track. Because that’s what tall, lanky, greyhounds of girls do.

    And gymnasts? They’re like a whole foot shorter than me (now – when I was 12 I was about 5’6″)and made of muscle. So if they’re 90 lbs at 12 years old and 4’9″, they’re actually pretty stocky, strong little girls. Not frail by any possible definition.

  80. “Just because a preteen girl says she wants to train for 20 hours a day, it does not mean that is what will be best for her physical, mental, or emotional well-being.”

    ..and yet nobody’s crying about Yngwie, Satch, etc…, who are no doubt contributing to untold amounts of carpal tunnel syndrome in teenagers who don’t know when to take a break or hold their instrument correctly.

    …or the multitude of RPG’ers and LARPers who are not necessarily doing what’s best for their physical, emotional and mental well being (not to mention, um, social).

    Just saying.

  81. Hey, Rebeeca,
    My point is this, the initial post stated a very strong unqualified, inflammatory statements about a particular sport, and referred to it as a sport in quotes indicating that you don’t really think it is an actual sport, and only cited other opinions to back it up.

    I doubt the entire structure of coaches, judges and administrators or whoever the “old men” you referred to are, is comprised solely of males eligible for membership in AARP and I saw no evidence beyond the statement that it is “obvious” that prepubescent girls are “frail” or that the mere fact that they weigh between 80-90 pounds indicates that they are frail.

    Those statements demonized and generalized and nothing presented in this discussion so far has shown any evidence supporting, that compared to other sports and other activities, training for competitive gymnastics is any more dangerous than other athletic activities.

    And as you yourself stated in comment 93, elite gymnastics is not the only sport where delayed puberty occurs or that it occurs more often. The higher prevalence of eating disorders in girls involved in sports may have something to do with similarities in the profiles for being motivated to compete at a higher level and the tendency to be vulnerable to such disorders. Since eating disorders can occur in girls who aren’t competing in anything it may speak more to other factors in their lives other than sport competition itself.

    Nor has it been shown in this discussion that organized gymnastics is more dangerous or incurs more injuries than other organized sport. The study on gymnastic-related injuries included the general population not only athletes training intensely. The accidents were selected according to descriptions of the injury that included a mention of gymnastic apparatus or gymnastic skills, i.e. a boy doing a handstand in a driveway, a girl trying to do a backbend in her living room, a kid doing a cartwheel in a playground, from data collected 1990-2005. The injury rate was calculated against the number of self-reported participants:

    “Gymnastics participation data were obtained from the 2006 Superstudy of Sports Participation.19 These data are based on self-report for individuals in the United States who are ?6 years of age and participated in gymnastics at least once during the 12-month period. Participation data for children 6 to 11 and 12 to 17 years of age were available for the year 2005 only. The number of gymnastics-related injuries per 1000 participants per year was calculated using these participation data and NEISS data for 2005. This study was approved by the institutional review board of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.”

    So it’s the injuries of the general population that involved gymnastic skills or equipment against the number of the general population reporting that they participated as little as once in a gymnastic activity in the 12 months of the reporting period and is not relevant to the dangers of elite gymnastic training.

    And your summary of the conclusion grossly misrepresents the actual conclusion of the study. It did not condemn the organized sport of gymnastics but rather pointed to the unsupervised attempts at gymnastic-related skills as the main source of the injuries:

    “An estimated 26600 (95% CI: 23200–33100) gymnastics-related injuries occurred annually during the study period, and the number of injuries decreased by 25% over 16 years, from 28700 in 1990 to 21500 in 2005. Our study’s annual injury rate per 1000 participants 6 to 17 years of age for gymnastics (4.8) is similar to high injury rates reported for other popular sports. The high incidence of catastrophic injuries previously reported and the high injury rates found in this study suggest the need for increased prevention efforts to lower the risk for injury in gymnastics. Prevention strategies should also focus on children and adolescents 6 to 17 years of age. Increased attention should also be directed toward the 6- to 11-year age group, which may be more likely to practice unsupervised gymnastics at home than older children. Unsupervised gymnastics is not recommended, because trained spotters and coaches are essential to ensure the safe practice of gymnastics.

    So even unsupervised gymnastic-related activity is on par with injury rates of other sports and trainers and coaches are advised to reduce injury.

    The question of the parents responsibility and the choice to allow their children to compete deserves much more thought than stating:
    “It is wrong for parents to allow their kids to go through that (Olympic-level girls’ gymnastics)
    not because it’s not in line with my opinion but because it is objectively wrong to force or allow a child to place themselves in such danger.”

    In regards to the “danger” from Olympic-level girls’ gymnastics, there has been nothing discussed proving it is in any way out of line with other activities children regularly participate in. The injuries studies for both gymnastic-related injuries and the cheerleading study indicate that it is way more dangerous to have a child interested in gymnastics go off on their own and try to replicate gymnastics skills than it is to allow them to train as in the cheerleader study, where injuries in the sport of gymnastics were a fraction compared to the cheerleading injuries which was increasingly using gymnastic skills, most likely, without a trained gymnastic coach.

    And let’s look at that first part of that comment that it is wrong to allow their kids to go through that type of training. There are a few possible scenarios why a parent would make this choice.

    One is stage parents, vicariously living out their dreams through their children and putting them up to it. In that case, you can’t hate gymnastics for that behavior because those kind of parents are going to push their kids into what ever discipline suits them whether it’s golf (hello, Tiger Woods) or show business (hey there, Lindsay Lohan). The specific discipline is not the issue. The personalities of the parents is.

    Another case is that you have a kid that gets interested in something passionately. They set their sights on it without any encouragement. Furthermore and more rarely, not only do they have the passion, they have an exceptional talent. They are good at it. They love practicing and getting better, seeing how much they can accomplish. Which is worse, giving the kid the opportunity or killing that passion leaving them feeling gutted, missing out at excelling and challenging themselves? Would you apply this same restriction to intellectually gifted kids? Would you restrict their reading time, prevent them for being promoted ahead? Would you stop a gifted musician from practicing? They may well be more damaged long term by being forced to conform into having a “normal” childhood and later regretting opportunities they missed and the waste of their gifts with a lifetime of regrets.

    A third case is that the only way that kid is going to be able to get to go to college is to optimize their excellence in a particular area to get a scholarship. In which case the 20+ hours training in high school is going to take them a lot farther than a part-time job flipping burgers.

    As far as the number of hours a week of training, if the child enjoys it and is being properly supervised, is that number of hours out of line with activities such as watching tv or playing video games or even doing homework? How much more detrimental is it to long term health to have a kid be a couch potato versus intense training?

    If you want to go into the choices parents make under totalitarian and repressive governments, that is a whole other discussion because you have much more at stake in those situations and it cannot be limited to making judgments based solely on the inherent dangers from extreme training and this goes for all sports not just gymnastics. They have risk factors that include punitive actions from the government and remaining in sub-par living conditions for life.

    So why the specific hate-on gymnastics? It isn’t any different than other sports where kids start
    playing early and at least gymnastics has tried to institute an age eligibility at 16 while most other
    sports have none. Many of the swimmers were at their first Olympics prior to turning 16.

    And please don’t get up in my grill about attacking Rebecca. I am challenging what she wrote and she’s a big girl and can take care of herself.

    Let the cow patties fly I am done wit this discussion. (applause of relief that my two cents are spent)

  82. I think the discussion on both sides of the issue has been detailed, intense and quite interesting. My comments are coming from my perspective as a pediatrician, for everyone else has done an excellent job at pulling studies and then viewing those studies from their particular perspective.

    “As far as the number of hours a week of training, if the child enjoys it and is being properly supervised, is that number of hours out of line with activities such as watching tv or playing video games or even doing homework? How much more detrimental is it to long term health to have a kid be a couch potato versus intense training?”

    Everything involves risk vs benefit, of course. Sedentary lifestyles and genetics ( in some combination with with calorie rich diets, poor parenting, and socioeconomic distress ) are producing a relative epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the adolescent population. The benefit of very sedentary lifestyle? Personally, I do not know any – perhaps it depends on what you do with that non active time? But kids NEED to be active ( as do adults ). Even if kids do not become diabetic, studies show ( sorry folks, I’m not going through my old papers ) that there is a correlation between obesity as a 12 year old and later adulthood obesity. There is even a correlation at a younger age. Early adipose rebound refers to a concept that visceral fat might be created as a toddler and as we develop our waist size expands and contracts as these cells hypertrophy or shrink. But the number of cells are created at this early age. Other semi- well known physiological correlations are leptin levels, POMC receptors, NPY receptors. There are over 300 single gene deletions that may be at the very least be minor factors in obesity. Obesity is obviously a heterogeneous genetic entity that is greatly influenced by environment. None of the previous factors are deterministic. All are subject to nature – nurture interactions. Finally, with regard to childhood obesity, other potential negative health consequences are insulin resistance ( which plays a role in polycystic ovarian syndrome as well as diabetes ), hypertension, lipid abnormalities, sleep apnea, early puberty, orthopedic syndrome such as Blount syndrome and non alcoholic ( fatty liver ) hepatitis.

    So there’s a lot not to like about sedentary choices, especially if there’s a genetic predispostion.

    No one could reasonably argue that a sedentary lifestyle is condusive to good health.

    That does not diminish the risks involved with a highly physical and caloric restrictive lifestyle. The FAT triad mentioned above IS a real risk suffered by these teenagers. Injuries are a real risk.

    I think it fair to say that for a teen age girl ( or boy ) a sedentary lifestyle compared to a varied lifestyle is deleterious as is a very highly intensive (olympic training ) physical lifestyle compared to a moderately ( school ,club sports and simple outdoor play for the average Joe or Josephine ) physical lifestyle. The difference is that there is no benefit that comes with the risk of being non active, but there is a potential benefit that comes with an extremely physical lifestyle. However, there have been, to my knowledge, no studies comparing the two extremes.

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