Jay Maddock, Lori Andersen Spruance
Little changes can make a big difference in promoting healthy body weights in children.
Youth sports leagues are a great way for children to get physical activity, develop teamwork and create friendships. Research has shown that youth who participate in sports leagues are eight times as likely to be active in their early 20s than those who don’t participate.
This is good news for the more than half of American youth ages 6 to 12 who participated in a team sport in 2017, with baseball, basketball and soccer being the most popular. But our recent research showed that snacks after youth sports games contained more calories than the amount kids burned.
Both of us are faculty members in public health who study childhood obesity. Most of Jay’s work is in physical activity and looks at the effect of the environment on health, including parks and city design. Lori specializes in the food environment and has examined the effects of school breakfast and salad bar programs on student nutrition.
Snacks and youth sports
Our interest in this issue started years ago. When I (Jay) was growing up in the 1980s, I loved playing in youth basketball and baseball leagues. Twenty-five years later, I was excited to enroll my sons in youth sports, including basketball, soccer and flag football.
However, from the first team meeting, something was different. The coach passed around a sign-up sheet to bring a grab-and-go snack for the team. I was surprised by this. When I was growing up, the only sport that had a snack was soccer, and that was oranges and water at half time. Why did these kids need a snack at 2 in the afternoon?
I signed up later in the season to see what the other parents were bringing as snacks. I was even more surprised when the snack turned out to be a hot dog in a bun, a bag of chips, a cookie and a sports drink! My son had just eaten lunch a couple of hours before and had only played for 20 minutes.
I thought to myself: They have got to be consuming more calories than they expended. A few years later, Lori Spruance and I decided to test this and find out if it was true.