Organized sports offer opportunities to promote healthy eating among children. Yet, research on older children shows that unhealthy snacks and beverages are often offered during sports events.
Assess attitudes of coaches and parents toward sports snack policies and what snack foods and beverages are offered to child athletes; and determine nutrient content of available sports snacks.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
Beverage and snack questionnaires were distributed among all parents (n = 120) and coaches (23) participating in a recreational under 5 years old (U5) and under 6 years old (U6) soccer league within a large Southeastern town. Snack observations for randomly selected U5 and U6 teams (n = 18) were recorded using an observational checklist following all scheduled combined practices/games.
Beverage and snack questionnaires assessed socio-demographic information; types, as well as frequency, of snacks and beverages offered to children; reasons for snack and beverage choices; and attitudes toward snack policies. Mean values across all observed snack foods and beverages were calculated for the following key nutrients: calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and sodium.
Forty-four parents (36.7% response rate) and 23 coaches (100%) completed the questionnaire. Nutrition was the primary factor in snack and beverage selection. Yet, parents and coaches reported offering many low-nutrient foods to their children as snacks. Parents and coaches were receptive to different policy options to support healthy snack options. A total of 687 items were observed across 32 U5 and 28 U6 teams. The most popular snack category was grain-based desserts (31.3% of all snack foods) and 54.9% of all beverages were sugar-sweetened. Less than half (44.4%) of all snack foods and beverages met USDA snack nutrition standards. Snacks offered, on average, 205 calories per child. No vegetables were served during the observations.
Numerous nutrition education opportunities exist to improve the snack food and beverage offerings among parents and coaches in recreational sports settings.
Appendix. Supplementary data
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