Parents say that healthy eating is challenging for youth who play sports

June 19, 2012

The food and beverages available to youth when they participate in organized sports can often be unhealthy, according to a new study released in the July/August 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. The findings were based on interviews with parents of players participating in youth basketball programs. Common food in youth sport settings were sweets (eg, candy, ice cream, doughnuts), pizza, hot dogs, ''taco-in-a-bag,'' salty snacks (eg, chips, cheese puffs, nachos), as well as soda pop and sports drinks. Parents also reported frequent visits to a fast-food restaurant (eg, McDonald's, Dairy Queen) when their children were playing sports. Parents told researchers they considered these to be unhealthy. Parents said their busy schedules getting to practices and games made them rely more on convenient, but less healthy, foods and beverages.

The research was conducted by investigators from the University of Minnesota. They recruited 60 parents of youth and conducted eight focus groups. Despite finding that parents considered youth sport an unhealthy , parents were ambivalent about the food and beverage choices available in youth sports, viewing snacks as an occasional treat, and sometimes rationalizing unhealthful eating because they saw their child as healthy. Parents had difficulty determining whether some food and beverage options were healthful. They also expressed concern about whether making and beverages more available at youth sport venues, particularly in concession stands, was feasible.

According to Toben F. Nelson, ScD, principal investigator of this study, "The food environment in youth sport exposes kids and their families to many unhealthful foods and beverages and few healthful options. 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." Lead author, Megan Thomas, MPH, RD, adds, "Parents should be concerned about what their children are eating, because good nutrition has benefits beyond weight management and is important for optimizing performance."

The study also brought to light that despite parent awareness of the poor food and beverage choices that are prevalent in youth sport; few parents attempted to change the situation. "These findings suggest the importance of helping parents understand the benefits of healthful eating for all children, regardless of their current weight status, and of helping parents feel empowered to create a healthful food environment for their children despite time obstacles," says investigator Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, RD.

Despite the study findings, researchers believe that youth sport is a promising setting for promoting nutrition. According to the National Council of Youth Sports, more than 44 million youth participate in organized sports each year. Studies have shown that youth sports participants are more likely to consume and items from fast-food restaurants than youth who don't participate in sports.

The investigators made recommendations to promote healthful dietary habits in youth sports participants: Integrate nutrition messages into youth sport programs; develop collaboration between youth sport leagues, public health professionals, and dietitians to create positive messages about nutrition that are specific to youth sport and could be delivered by coaches and peer mentors; enlist coaches and older peer mentors to deliver key nutrition messages; develop nutrition guidelines for sport leagues regarding the types of food and beverages that are appropriate for organized snack schedules and concession stands; and explore feasible ways to improve the nutritional quality of food and beverages available and sold in youth sport settings.

Explore further: Sports safety: Get geared up and always warm up

More information: “Exploring Parent Perceptions of the Food Environment in Youth Sport” by Megan Thomas, MPH, RD; Toben F. Nelson, ScD; Eileen Harwood, PhD; and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, RD. It appears in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 44, Issue 4 (July/August 2012)

Related Stories

Sports safety: Get geared up and always warm up

April 20, 2012
April is Youth Sports Safety Month. Each year, more than 3.5 million children under the age of 15 are treated for sports injuries nationwide. Roughly half of these injuries are sustained in solo activities, while approximately ...

For kids, it's more than just a game

July 20, 2011
A cohesive team environment, assessing one's own performance rather than comparing with others, and involvement in enjoyably challenging practices are the main conditions needed for children to have a positive developmental ...

Recommended for you

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Study shows cigarette makers shifted stance on nicotine patches, gum

August 17, 2017
The use of nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers or nasal sprays—together called "nicotine replacement therapy," or NRT—came into play in 1984 as prescription medicine, which when combined with counseling, helped ...

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

Energy dense foods may increase cancer risk regardless of obesity status

August 17, 2017
Diet is believed to play a role in cancer risk. Current research shows that an estimated 30% of cancers could be prevented through nutritional modifications. While there is a proven link between obesity and certain types ...

Technology is changing Generation smartphone, and not always for the better

August 16, 2017
It's easy to imagine some graybeard long ago weighing in on how this new generation, with all its fancy wheels, missed out on the benefits of dragging stuff from place to place.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.