Summer youth sports are in full swing, and that may pose a challenge for parents trying to make sure their kids are eating healthy meals.
New research out of the University of Minnesota has found healthy eating is challenging for many kids who play sports, based on interviews with parents. The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, noted common foods in youth sport settings include many sweets, salty and fatty foods – including candy, ice cream, doughnuts, pizza, hot dogs, tacos, chips, cheese puffs, nachos – as well as sugar-laden sodas and sports drinks.
In addition, many parents reported frequent visits to fast-food restaurants when their children are playing sports. Even though they told researchers they know such foods are not good choices, their busy schedules getting to practices and games made them rely more on convenient, but less healthy, foods and beverages.
"The food environment in youth sport exposes kids and their families to many unhealthful foods and beverages and few healthful options,” said lead researcher Toben F. Nelson. “Youth who participate in sports spend considerable time in these activities outside of school, and these sport environments are likely to influence their eating behavior."
The findings are based on researchers’ surveys of 60 parents of youth basketball players and eight focus groups. Based on the parents’ comments, the research team said organized sports programs should do more to raise parents’ awareness of the health dangers of poor food and beverage choices.
Noting more than 44 million youths participate in organized sports each year, according to the National Council of Youth Sports, the researchers offered several suggestions to promote healthier dietary habits in young athletes:
• Integrate healthy-eating recommendations into youth sport programs;
• Develop collaboration between youth sport leagues, public health professionals, and dietitians to promote nutritional messages that are specific to youth sport and could be delivered by coaches and peer mentors;
• Develop dietary guidelines for sport leagues regarding the types of food and beverages that are appropriate for organized snack schedules and concession stands; and
• Explore ways to improve the nutritional quality of food and beverages available and sold in youth sport settings.
"Parents should be concerned about what their children are eating, because good nutrition has benefits beyond weight management and is important for optimizing performance," said researcher Megan Thomas.