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Seed Grant Awardee: Connor Sheehan

A Systematic Investigation of the Relationship between Sports and Risk of Mortality in the United States: How Does the Relationship Vary by Race/Ethnicity

Connor Sheehan | Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

In an era when Americans are more divided than ever, Americans are still united in their passion for sports. While the social (Eime, Young, Harvey, Charity, & Payne, 2013), emotional (Branscombe & Wann, 1991), physical (Haskell et al., 2007), economic, and societal (Norberg, 2018) benefits of sports are well documented, how playing sports is related to longevity remains unclear. If funded, this grant would utilize a nationally representative survey of about 30,000 Americans tracked 13-years to conduct the most comprehensive analyses yet of how engagement in sports is associated with risk of mortality and how this relationship may vary by race/ethnicity. 

The specific aims are as follows:

  • Specific Aim #1A: Descriptively document how engagement in specific (e.g., basketball) and different types (e.g., team sports) of sports are associated with risk of mortality of Americans from 1998-2011.
  • Specific Aim #1B: Test if the relationship between engagement in sports and mortality varies by race/ethnicity in the United States. That is, does the association between engagement in the specific and general type of sports differentially affect the risk of mortality for different race/ethnic groups?
  • Specific Aim #2A: Systematically examine why Americans who engage in sports may have a lower mortality risk. Could the benefit of sports for health be direct (e.g., cardiovascular health) or is it through more distal pathways (e.g., social engagement)?
  • Specific Aim #2B: Analyze how these factors and pathways vary by race/ethnicity.
  • Specific Aim #2C: Using advanced quasi-causal techniques such as Inverse Probability Weighted Regression Adjustment, provide quasi-casual estimates of the relationship between engagement in sports and mortality risk.

By accomplishing these aims, I will document the long-term benefits of engagement in sports for health for the U.S. adult population to an extent to which has previously not been possible. I will also examine how sports may have the potential to ameliorate racial inequality in longevity. Differences in the mortality implications of engagement in the sport by race may stress the significance of tailored policy interventions. I plan on disseminating my findings widely with the objective of promoting participation in sports as a means to promote longevity and further social equality in health.

Published Work
Associations of Exercise with All-cause Mortality among Adults in the United States
Last updated May 2020.