Skinny Fat: Athletes & Junk Food

Athletes diets are not always as healthy as they should be due to tight schedules and bad options

June 25, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Parents with athletic children haven't been focused on providing nutritious meal and snack options. Nutrition experts suggest changing habits to promote healthier eating habits in athletes. 

A recent study found that kids in organized sports are surrounded by junk food at games and often eat fast food before and after playing.  

Researchers see educating the parents and coaches on nutrition as the solution. 

"Keep fresh, healthy snacks around at all times!"

Toben F. Nelson, ScD, from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, led a study into the diets of kids who play sports.

Researchers asked 60 parents of basketball players, aged 6-13, questions about the foods their children consume at, or around, sporting events and practice times.

The parents said that they found sporting events to be a haven for unhealthy drinks and snacks. Yet they still saw their children as generally healthy, viewing unhealthy snacks as acceptable treats to have for special occasions, like a game.

Parents admitted they had trouble detecting what options were actually healthy.  Sports drinks were a prime example of what was sold at most concession booths with advertised health benefits, but loaded with sugar.  

Parents say that they have also frequented nearby fast food restaurants after games and practices.

Nelson said, “The food environment in youth sport exposes kids and their families to many unhealthful foods and beverages and few healthful options. Youth who participate in sports spend considerable time in these activities outside of school, and these sport environments are likely to influence their eating behavior.”

Megan Thomas, MPH, RD, lead author of the study, says: “Parents should be concerned about what their children are eating, because good nutrition has benefits beyond weight management and is important for optimizing performance.”

During questioning parents said they understood that the unhealthy options were the dominant option. Still, this understanding didn’t spark many parents to address the issue and be proactive in making healthier options available.

Another researcher from the study, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, RD, adds: “These findings suggest the importance of helping parents understand the benefits of healthful eating for all children, regardless of their current weight status, and of helping parents feel empowered to create a healthful food environment for their children despite time obstacles.”

Authors conclude in their study: “Youth sport is a promising setting for promoting nutrition. Potential interventions may include advice about healthful eating to overcome the challenges associated with youth sport and policy changes that promote greater availability of healthful food at concession stands.”

By getting coaches and parents involved in sending the right message about healthy nutrition to the kids and making healthier options available, the kids can learn to develop good habits at a young age that can last a lifetime.

This study was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, June 2012. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
June 21, 2012
Last Updated:
November 12, 2012