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The Role of Corporations in Supporting Sports and Recreation

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Children play basketball on new public basketball courts after a grand opening ceremony in Midwest City. Photo: BRYAN TERRY - THE OKLAHOMAN

By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |

The world has become a much more stressful place through the past decade. As a result, the number of people suffering from depression has sharply increased. It is estimated that more than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression, causing around $1 trillion in lost productivity. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability. They report that there has been an 18 percent increase in people suffering from depression between 2005 and 2015. In the US, Blue Cross Blue Shield reports 33 percent increase in depression diagnoses since 2013. The American Psychological Association reports that Americans are increasingly stressed about the future of the nation. More specifically this impacts the younger generations. Gen Z adults, who are 18 to 21 years old, are significantly more likely to report mental health issues than other generations. For Americans overall, money and work continue to be the top of the list for significant stressors.

While mental health issues are spreading, there are also fewer opportunities for free or inexpensive recreation and sports activities. People work more and have less time for sports, and the available sports activities are often very costly. Gym membership, a round of golf, or a ski lift ticket are all examples of sports related costs that many cannot afford anymore. Free access tennis or basketball courts are hard to find, and even finding a field to play baseball or football can be a challenge in some communities. Even if free facilities would exist, many young people cannot afford the equipment required.

It would be a good investment for corporations to invest in their employees in the form of providing access to recreational and sports opportunities for them. Exercise is linked to improving mental health, and can help a person suffering from depression significantly. Psychiatrists are known to suggest healthy diets and frequent exercise to depressed patients. Corporations could invest in community organizations that provide recreational and sports programs, and make a real difference. This is a matter of social responsibility as well as critical to profitability. It is also smart strategic management. Since the US does not have a governmentally centralized sports infrastructure like many other countries do, corporations have an increased social responsibility in this regard. When the public cost decreases, the private cost increases. When communities cannot support recreational and sports programs via tax revenue, corporations must step in. Otherwise, we are likely to see continued increase in people suffering from depression and continued decrease of productivity. Sports can be a big part of the solution, and corporations can help. It is not a panacea, but it is a part of the puzzle.

Dr. Tomi Wahlström is Vice President of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy.

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