Joining a club is good for a teenager's health, suggests research published ahead of print in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The authors base their research on data collected for the Health Behavior in School aged Children Study 2005-6. This is a World Health Organization survey, looking at the health and health behaviors of around 4500 teens aged 11, 13, and 15 from 41 countries in Europe and North America.
Of the 41 countries involved, only six included an optional question about club membership - Belgium, Canada, England, Italy, Poland, and Romania. And some of them only asked this of 15 year olds, so the authors have drawn their conclusions on this age group alone.
The questions asked of the teens included perceived health and wellbeing, the presence of any mental and physical symptoms, and lifestyle behaviors, including smoking, drinking, and TV watching.
The overall level of family affluence was also assessed by questions relating to car ownership, household space, overseas family holidays and computer ownership.
Sports club membership was by far the most popular in all countries and ranged from over 57% of respondents in Belgium to just under one in five (18.9%) respondents in Romania.
By contrast, involvement in political organizations was low, and not more than 4%, except Poland where it reached just over 8%.
Canada led the way on voluntary work (22.4%), while more than one in three (36.6%) Polish teens belonged to a cultural organization.
Participation in church groups was most popular in Poland and Italy (17%), and least popular in Belgium (less than 4%), where one in four respondents belonged to a youth club. This compares with around one in five English, Italian, and Romanian teens who belonged to a youth club.
Almost one in three English teens said they belonged to 'other clubs and associations.'
Family affluence influenced the likelihood of belonging to more than one club, and more than one in three of those coming from the least affluent families did not belong to any club.
Although club membership is not without its problems, including peer pressure, say the authors, in general, those teens who belonged to some sort of club were more likely to report better health, lead healthier lifestyles, and were less likely to indulge in risky behavior, especially if they belonged to more than one club/association.
"The present findings support the notion that encouraging participation in a range of associations is a useful and beneficial policy goal especially for young people, increasing their facility to access and become part of wide ranging networks," conclude the authors.