Do Kids Who Participate in Team Sports Eat MORE Junk Food?

by Bettina Elias Siegel on February 28, 2012

Well, this is a case of blogging serendipity:

You might remember a post I recently shared here by Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition.  She was taking issue with the often-awful snacks served at her kids’ soccer games, and sounded so much like I do when I write about classroom treats that I called her A Soccer Mom After My Own Heart:

I really didn’t want to be That Mom. You know who I mean. But the soccer snacks drove me over the edge.

Let me tell you about soccer. The Capri Sun flows like water at soccer. There are Pringles. And Ritz Bits. And Oreos. And cupcakes. Sometimes Oreos and cupcakes.

After two years of watching this parade of processed food march onto the field every Saturday morning, I finally spoke up and became That Mom.

In the post, Sally goes on to detail the surprisingly vehement push back she got when she suggested improving her child’s team’s soccer snacks.

Well, here’s what I happened to email Sally yesterday:

I was totally thinking of you yesterday afternoon . . . .  We are NOT a team sports family at all . . . but out of the blue my sixth grader decided she wants to try soccer again, after hating it back in first grade.  So yesterday was her very first game and the snack was given out at the end (really raising the question, WHY?  since we’re all going home at the point anyway.)  I had my fingers crossed that maybe things had changed in the intervening five years since our last soccer game — until [she] came toward me with a bag of sour cream and onion Lay’s and a juice!

In the car home, I told [my daughter] up front, I’m so sorry but I’m just not going to provide snacks like that.  What about sliced oranges?  (I mean, who even wants salty potato chips after running hard for an hour?)  But peer pressure being what it is, and the strong desire to fit in around this age, I know it’s going to be a struggle between the two of us.  Sigh.

Then, not a few hours later, Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen of Raise Healthy Eaters (another excellent blog, by the way) shared on her Facebook page a Chicago Tribune 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 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 8 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 (a) it validates what a lot of health-aware “soccer moms” are concerned about; and (b) having a formal study documenting the problem might be the first step toward change.

In fact, right now I’m noodling over whether to send a link to this study to my daughter’s soccer coach and asking if he might consider sharing it with the team’s parents to encourage better snacks.  Then again, as I mentioned above, we’re brand new to this soccer thing.  And Sally’s experience with other parents who seemed determined to defend their Cheetos and Capri Sun was pretty dispiriting.

In Sally’s words, it’s very hard to be That Mom . . . .

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie Mills February 28, 2012 at 9:15 am

I’m curious if there are any similar studies that show kids in team sports also eat more processed and fast food, not including the snack. I know that many families will do fast food on practice and game days. Also, where I live there is a full concession stand during baseball season that sells frito pie, hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets, candy, sodas, etc… Not to say my kids never eat that stuff, but I know many families who make that the official dinner plan all season. Seems to negate the exercise benefit, and sure isn’t good for mom and dad (& siblings) who are just sitting there watching.

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Jessica T February 28, 2012 at 9:55 am

I am “THAT MOM”, and all the parents and kids on both of my boys’ teams know it, because my snacks are always some type of fruit and a bottle of water. While it’s disheartening to have a five year old tell me that he doesn’t want a banana because “I don’t eat healthy foods!” (that actually happened), I’m reassured when my sons tell their friends that if they don’t eat right, they won’t have energy to play baseball. I’m also reassured when the kids gather around me in between games at a tournament, because they all know I have a bag full of food that they all want to eat.

People sometimes tease me because I don’t allow my kids to eat unhealthy foods while we’re at the ball field – “Just let the poor kid have a candy bar” – and I love being able to reply that my kids would much rather have fruit anyway. Of course I allow them to have treats in moderation, but the way that we eat on a normal basis has given them both the tools to make the right decisions about what they put in their bodies.

For the record, I love being “THAT MOM”, and I couldn’t be prouder when my kids make the right choices on their own.

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Grace @Eatdinner February 28, 2012 at 10:32 am

It doesn’t have to be this way! Sports are good for kids, they need one hour of active play everyday at least. (And many aren’t getting it at reces or PE class.) But I agree it’s become an insane tradition to “treat” the kids with junk food snack right after every practice or game. We have not done traditional team sports in our family and am thankful that my kids were drawn to dance and track as their activities. Their track coach insists on fruit and water only and everyone brings their own. (Although sometimes a parent will bring in a bunch of bananas to share or hand out to kids who forget.)

Is that really so hard? This is what their bodies need after a workout, not junk! And believe me, they eat their dinner on track practice nights.

Yoni Freedhoff had a post on this recently and one of the comments was a heart-break. The mom said exactly what Laurie suggested: we ate fast food in the car rushing from practice to practice, never time for family dinner. She reported that her college-age kids got hooked on the fast food habit and not the sports. She felt very sorry and guilty for getting on the “sports” treadmill as opposed to prioritizing other habits.

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Andrea February 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm

This is so timely! Yesterday my 6 year old went to a local art class after school (first time) and the teacher served… CARROTS. I almost passed out from the shock of it (no cookies? no doughnut holes???). She did have juice (whatever, FINE) and that’s it, juice (apple) and carrots. One other mom actually went up after class and thanked the teacher for the healthy snack. There are a lot of us out there but it is hard to always speak up and be that mom. (Also, my kid has food allergies so I often have to be that mom for other reasons.)

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Sharon Wainshilbaum April 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm

It sounds to me like all the people who wrote comments have young children. My girls are older teenagers. I am an earthy-crunchy mom, so while they did have cookies and candy growing up, they also had fruit juice sweetened muffins and a lot of fruits and vegetables and home cooked meals. Now, they are the only kids I know whose palettes are not accustomed to excess salt and sugar. To all of you who are concerned, don’t think about nutrition for your kids today, realize that you are getting them accustomed to a lifetime of healthy eating, and all the benefits that entails.

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Bettina Elias Siegel April 21, 2014 at 8:45 am

Very good advice, Sharon! It’s always good to get the perspective of parents of older or grown kids as I think it can be hard to take the long view when you’re in the thick of child rearing. Thanks for commenting here!

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