It happens after just about every youth sports game across the country win or lose - kids get something to eat and drink from the designated “snack” parent. Parents may re-think what they provide during this post-game ritual now that new research shows kids are likely consuming many more calories after the game than they burned during the game. And the sugar intake from that one event exceeds the entire daily total recommended for children.
Researchers at Brigham Young University found in their study of nearly 200 games of varying sports that the average number of calories burned during a game was 170, but the children consumed an average of 213 calories during the post-game snack time. The kids also consumed an average of 26.4 grams of sugar, mainly in the form of sweetened drinks. The recommended daily allowance is only 25 grams.
"Kids are getting inundated with snack culture all the time—celebrations at school, at birthday parties and youth sports games," said senior study author and BYU professor Lori Spruance. "We don't need to load children up with sugar after a game too."
Spruance and her team observed a total of 189 games of soccer, flag football, baseball and softball for 3rd and 4th graders. They tracked both physical activity and the post-game snacks and drinks the kids consumed.
Activity was measured using the SOFIT method. Each child’s movement was tracked at 10-second intervals with a scale of 1-5. One represented no activity and five equating to running. They were then tallied and averaged across the board.
The post-game food and beverages were also logged. Parents brought snacks 80 percent of the time and 90 percent of the time the drinks they brought were sweetened with sugar. The most popular choices of drinks were Capri Sun pouches and Kool-Aid Jammers pouches, while the most popular snacks were baked goods.
The study was published in the American Journal of Health Behavior and stated children averaged 27 minutes of activity per game. Soccer players were the most active during their competitions while softball players were the least active. It is recommended children get at least 60 minutes of activity per day beginning at age 5.
While the researchers admitted 43 more calories consumed than burned might not seem like a lot, they say it adds up if kids are playing more than one game per week and also have multiple seasons throughout the year.
"So many kids are at games just to get their treat afterwards, which really isn't helping to develop healthy habits long term," Spruance said. "The reward should be, "I got to have fun. I got to run around with my friend or score a goal.'"
"Little changes can make a big difference in promoting healthy body weights in our children," wrote study co-author Jay Maddock, a professor of public health at Texas A&M University. "So when your children are playing sports, we recommend making the healthy choice and choosing water, fruits and vegetables and a healthy protein source too, like nuts."