New figures from the Schools Health Education Unit show that since 1991, there has been a decline in the numbers of 12-15 year olds that report playing pool and snooker.
SHEU has been collecting figures about young people's health-related behaviour since 1977 and recently has been tracking figures back across the years to identify any trends.
These studies have been published in Trends where changing habits of young people in primary and secondary schools are reported. As preparation for the forthcoming publication "Trends: Physical Activity", we have looked at each individual sport or game reported by the school children in our sample.
Among the list of sports, we include pool, darts and snooker that are often played in pubs and clubs. These games contribute little to physical activity and are listed so that regular participants can indicate their involvement to us without having to write in the 'other' box.
About 10% of Year 8 pupils (12-13 year-olds) report playi ng po ol at least weekly, with fewer playing snooker. While checking the figures we noticed a gentle decline in participation in pool and snooker reported by pupils in Year 10 (14-15 year olds) over recent years: from a peak of about 30% of males and females reporting playing pool in 1996 we now see at most 25%; figures for snooker have similarly declined from around 28% for males and females in 1996 to just over 20% now.
It perhaps comes as no surprise to find that participation in pool and snooker is associated with a higher prevalence of smoking and drinking. Data from 'Young People in 2003' suggest that wherever the 14-15 year old males play pool and snooker they are more likely to have drunk alcohol.
This correlation may be caused by something quite direct -- tobacco and alcohol being more available in venues where these games are played -- or less direct, for example, the young people who play pool may be more likely to be from social groups or personality types that are more likely to smoke or drink. These explanations are of course not mutually exclusive. What has replaced these games in the affection of young people, if anything? When we think of games these days it is easy to think of computer games, and we have clear evidence of a rise in levels of participation in computer games over just the same period.
It is not possible to show that computer games have to any extent displaced pool and snooker in the lives of young people, but it is at least plausible. Computer games, like pool and snooker, usually require a degree of hand-eye co-ordination and strategic thinking - in fact, computer games can be very challenging in both respects, as well as demanding a speed of response that the cue games do not require. If young people are exposed less to environments that promote health-risky behaviours like smoking and drinking, we might regard it as a positive move, although the thought that young people may be now more solitary and home-bound is not so welcome. We do know that computer games form the topic of many conversations between young males of all ages, and so the conclusion that computer games reduce possibilities for social interaction is too simple.
Visit http://www.sheu.org.uk/pubs/pubact.htm for full text and charts