More than 44 million U.S. children participate in organized sports, and that number has been on the rise. Also on the rise: childhood obesity rates. What gives? While you are encouraging your children’s pursuit of team sports activities in the hopes of supporting their physical fitness, the food environment surrounding such sporting activities may work at cross purposes, by encouraging consumption of sugary, fattening junk food.

The study published in Childhood Obesity observed players (boys 8 to 11 years of age) and families at a baseball field in northwest North Carolina for a total of 12 games. 72% of team snacks consisted of high-calorie foods such as candy, burgers, fries, and cookies – and more than half of drinks were sugar sweetened. The concession stand supplied 89% of the food consumed. Translate this into practice and game nights, especially with participation in multiple sports teams, means unhealthy fare is replacing family dinners.  Not only will this yield a caloric surplus — well in excess of energies likely expended during sports – but also a nutrition deficit, as family dining times correlate with better nutrient intake. In other words, participating in sports may paradoxically reinforce obesity trends rather than reverse them.

Obviously, the answer is not to the curb kids’ involvement with such games which can be a prime opportunity for physical exercise. Rather, parents should place equal attention on the healthy eating aspect of such activities, dialoguing with sports leagues to provide more nutritious choices, organizing with other families to “pot luck” healthy homemade foods, and toting along easy-to-grab fruit snacks. 

Published June 1, 2014