Your kids just put in a great game! Win or lose, they went all out and worked their tails off. Now it’s time for a post-game snack! They earned it, right? It’s a tradition, after all. But is it a tradition that’s actually making your kids fatter and less healthy?
Sports moms and dads all across America know the tradition. When it’s game time, one of them brings the juice drinks and treats for after the game. When it’s tournament time, that means 3, 4 or more games in a weekend. That’s a lot of snacks.
Some parents revel in the tradition. Others hate it. As it turns out, no matter how you feel about it, science seems to have shown that this particular tradition might be better off being cast aside for something less damaging to their health.
The public health research folks over at Brigham Young University took a look at the post-game snacking habits of American kids. What they found was that those kids were taking in more calories in their post-game snacks than they were expending during their game play. If one of the purposes of youth sports is to help kids get and stay fit, that’s kind of working in the opposite direction.
“Kids are getting inundated with snack culture all the time — celebrations at school, at birthday parties and youth sports games,” said senior study author and BYU professor Lori Spruance. “We don’t need to load children up with sugar after a game too.”
Spruance and her team of eager students took watched over 189 games of 3rd and 4th grade soccer, baseball, softball and flag football. They tracked the physical activity of the children using the SOFIT method. This method measures activity on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 equals no activity and 5 equals running. They checked activity every 10 seconds during every game for every child tracked. Whew! That’s a lot of tracking – and a lot of data.
They also took note of the food and drinks being supplied for post-game snacks. They noted that parents brought post-game snacks 80 percent of the time and that almost 90 percent of the post-game drinks were sweetened with sugar.
According to their tracking, the kids burned an average of 170 calories per game played. The average calorie intake from post-game snacks? 213 calories. That 43 calorie excess may not sound like much, but when you consider that many kids play 2, 3 or more games per week, it adds up. For example, a child playing an average of 2.5 games per week would take in 1 1/2 pounds of extra calories a year, much of it sugar sweetened.
The news on the sugar front is no better. The post-game suagr consumption averaged 26.4 grams. That’s 1.4 grams more than the recommended sugar consumption for an entire day! Sugary drinks were the big problem here. Apparently, Capri Sun and Kool-Aid Jammers drinks were quite popular among the sugar-laden little athletes the research team followed, with baked goods topping the list of most frequent snacks.
While you might think playing sports would help kids meet the 60-minute-per-day activity recommendation, this wasn’t the case. The team found that the kids averaged just 27 minutes of activity per game. Soccer players were the most active, while softball players were the least active.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Health Behavior.
“So many kids are at games just to get their treat afterwards, which really isn’t helping to develop healthy habits long term,” Spruance said. “The reward should be, ‘I got to have fun, I got to run around with my friend or score a goal.'”
There has definitely been a “snack culture” that has become attached to youth sports. Spruance and her team think it might be time for an “intervention.” They’d like to see the food environment changed as it relates to youth sports. To that end, they are designing their next study and working on fact sheets about the troubles with current post-game snacks. These will be distributed to municipal parks and recreation departments, who will share them with parents.
In one test city, positive results are already being seen. Fruits and vegetables as part of post-game snacks have increased from 3 percent of the total to 15 percent. Water has replaced sugary beverages in 16 percent of snacks observed.
“Little changes can make a big difference in promoting healthy body weights in our children,” wrote study co-author Jay Maddock, a professor of public health at Texas A&M University. “So when your children are playing sports, we recommend making the healthy choice an choosing water, fruits an vegetables and a healthy protein source too, like nuts.”
The post-game meal, or as it has become in youth sports, the post-game snack, is a tradition with it’s roots in warfare and battle. After returning from battle, victorious warriors would gather together to share a meal and swap stories of the fight. Mutton, mead and roasted pig have been replaced by cookies, juice boxes and other snack foods in the modern version.
It may be time for us to keep the tradition alive, but trade the junk food for something healthier and more supportive of our athletes.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
Material Source – Brigham Young University
Journal Reference – Natalie Bennion, Lori Andersen Spruance, Jay E. Maddock. Do Youth Consume More Calories than they Expended in Youth Sports Leagues? An Observational Study of Physical Activity, Snacks, and Beverages. American Journal of Health Behavior, 2020; 44 (2): 180 DOI: 10.5993/AJHB.44.2.6