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 basketball players and conducted eight focus groups. Despite finding that parents considered youth sport an unhealthy food environment, 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 healthful food 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."