My sixth grade daughter recently decided to join a soccer team, something she hasn't done since a brief flirtation with soccer back in the first grade. But I well remembered how the snacks at kids' soccer games back then (provided by the team's parents) usually consisted of pre-packaged junk food like cookies or chips along with sugary, caloric juice and sports drinks. Given the growing societal awareness of childhood obesity, I wondered if things had possibly improved in the intervening five years.
When my daughter's first game was over (and really, why do kids even need a snack after the game, when everyone is going home game anyway?), she walked off the field holding a bag of Lay's sour cream and onion potato chips and a sugary juice.
But my daughter's experience is clearly no exception.
On Monday, the Chicago Tribune ran a story headlined "Kids Who Play Sports Eat More Junk Food: Study." Although the cited study found that "kids participating in athletics tend to eat more fruits, vegetables and drink more milk than those who don't," it also found, according to the Tribune, that:
Sports are nearly synonymous with junk food. Sports venues almost always offer candy, soda or ice cream; when the kids start badgering you at 9 a.m., it makes for a long day of saying "no." In youth sports leagues, parents volunteer to organize snack schedules; in soccer, kids get treats and halftime and after the game, though they are not lacking for energy or fuel.
These sweet rewards, meanwhile, are often packaged convenience foods such as cookies, chips, soda or "fruit" snacks, which can total 300 to 500 calories or more, the researchers noted in the study. A typical eight year old will expend about an additional 150 calories in an hour of high intensity sport activity...
Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are perhaps even more insidious. Most kids don't need the sweetened beverages and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids avoid them.
I'm glad this study came out because 1) It validates what a lot of health-aware "soccer moms" are concerned about; and 2) Having a formal study documenting the problem might be the first step toward change.
Today's kids (for whom an excess of calories poses more of a problem than any deficit) are hardly lacking the "fuel" needed to participate in sports. And if they're hungry or thirsty during or after the game, is there any reason why water and fruit won't suffice?