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Are Kids Playing Sports Just to Get Their Treats?

A study is a wake-up call that we need to improve postgame snack culture.

Sports benefits for kids outweighed by snacks

Parents should think twice about hauling the Rice Krispy squares and Capri Sun pouches to soccer games. That’s because a study hailing from Brigham Young University determined that the energy expended during youth sports play is often undermined by the snacks kids are typically gifted afterward.

The investigation, published in the American Journal of Health Behavior, found that the average energy expenditure for 3rd and 4th graders during games of soccer, flag football, baseball and softball was 170 calories per game, while the average caloric intake from postgame snacks was 213 calories. Perhaps even more concerning is that the average amount of added sugar consumed postgame was a lofty 26.4 grams—more than the total daily recommendation for kids (25 g).

As adults, we should be worried that the current state of postgame snacks could, over time, contribute to childhood overweight and obesity, problems that physical activity participation is trying to curb. Another concern is that, in a version of Pavlovian conditioning, many kids will associate sports play with receiving treats afterward, which doesn’t do much for fostering healthy exercise and diet habits. It’s perfectly acceptable for kids to sip or nibble on something after working up a sweat, but parents should be encouraged to offer up healthier, more calorie-controlled options, like water and fresh fruit.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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