Are Youth Sports Making Kids Healthier or Teaching Bad Habits?
As I walked through the baseball park where my 7 year old plays Little League, I stopped in my tracks when I saw a little girl, probably age 6, with an Icee and French fries. This might not have seemed so “out of the ordinary”, but it was 9 AM. 9 AM! Wow! This was breakfast! I am sure there might have been a good answer, but I would have loved to know WHY this child was eating THESE foods at 9 AM!
Kids’ sports, in general, are supposed to get kids moving and up off the couch. They teach new athletic skills, teamwork, and hopefully might instill the love for a sport they might just play through to adulthood! I loved playing volleyball and softball in my younger years and still do. Practices, tournaments and games make for a busy schedule, not only for the child but for parents and siblings, too. Is this the reason we choose to feed our children “these” kinds of foods at 9 AM? Busy schedules, over-involved, no time to cook at home, are all reasons to grab something on the go or eat what they have available once there. Unfortunately, these habits of on the go eating are not the best to showcase with your kids. Soon they might associate all the benefits of youth sports with what they receive as a treat for participating!
What I have found interesting is that it is the concession stands that are run by the parents, the park or the organization hosting the teams, which have full control of what they sell to their customers. And yes, the customers are the parents and kids who frequent their establishment very often with practices, tournaments and games. There are little, if any, regulations or rules, regarding what they can or cannot sell. So bring on the candy, the ICEES, the French fries, the hot dogs, the chips, the soda and anything else we can buy in bulk to sell and help our organization raise money to fund youth sports and healthy kids!
If it is the parents and the organization making decisions as to what to sell and not law makers (like in school districts for school lunches), why is it that the menus are still filled primarily with processed and prepackaged foods containing ingredients that no one can pronounce?
I am all for moderation. I get the “GO” “SLOW” and “WHOA” food concept. But when many parents with kids in sports start to “live” at the ball field, or the gym, or the dance studio, what they serve from the concession stands starts to become a regular dinner or snack for these kids. They come to expect the ICEE each night after practice or the reward after the game. They come to expect the hot dog and treat for a snack before practice because “they need something in their belly”, as they came straight from school.
New research from University of Minnesota School of Public Health* researchers has found nearly half of overweight adolescents ages 12 to 17 also participate in organized physical activities.
“Youth sport is encouraged as a way to help curb the obesity epidemic among young people, but the results of our review show that the activity alone might not be enough to prevent extra weight gain,” said School of Public Health researcher Toben F. Nelson, Sc.D., assistant professor within the Division of Epidemiology & Community Health. “The fact that many studies show that sport participants are as likely as non-participants to be overweight is interesting because studies consistently show that participants are more likely to be physically active.”
The culprit, according to researchers, appears to be the high-calorie culture pervading youth sports.
My kids are going to be playing youth sports for a long time and I see the road ahead when ordering choices are made without me standing behind him. I hope that youth sports won’t instill bad eating habits in my kids. But that’s my job as a parent. I will take responsibility for what my children are fed. But healthy choices from the concession stand owners would be appreciated when we, as parents, see youth sports as a way to get kids active and make them healthy.
For more on the “GO SLOW & WHOA” food chart, visit We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition), a national movement designed to give parents, caregivers, and entire communities a way to help children 8 to 13 years old stay at a healthy weight.
For more on the University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s “Healthy Youth Sports Study”, visit:
Written By Marisa Langford
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