When the organizers of a North Carolina Little League realized their players might not be getting the right fuel they needed to get through life’s extra innings, they went to the experts.
“Parents were concerned about the kind of food their kids were eating, and coaches were concerned, too,” explained Megan Irby, a researcher at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and co-author of “The Food Environment of Youth Baseball,” a study prompted by the Little League’s request.
For the study, published in the April edition of the journal Childhood Obesity, researchers observed 12 games at the league’s field to see what players and their family members were eating. What they found was that high-calorie snacks and sugar-sweetened drinks dominated.
The researchers warned that while team sports remain a key way to keep young people moving, some of the progress made on the field can be undone by unhealthy food and drink options. Essentially, kids could be heading home from a game having consumed more calories than they burned.
Presented with the results, Irby said, the league’s organizers, coaches and parents took action. “The feedback we got from them was that they are taking steps to try to make the ballpark a healthier environment,” she said.
More water coolers are now provided so the players have an easily available alternative to sports drinks and other sugar-added beverages.
Families are being encouraged to pack meals for the ballpark, Irby said, and the concession stands looked at revamping their offerings or making players and fans aware of the healthier choices. While the concessions sold grilled chicken sandwiches and salads, “they weren’t being promoted.”
The small study is “kind of a first step to take a look at what’s going on in the youth environment,” Irby said, noting that the food environment surrounding kids’ athletics varies by region, sport and season. “There’s a lot more work that needs to be done to see if these results are consistent across sports and locations.”
Donna Brutkowski authored this report.
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