Unhealthy Snacking in Youth Baseball

Weight gain and obesity in kids possibly spurred by unhealthy ballpark snacks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Youth sports like baseball can foster a healthy lifestyle through physical activity in children. But new research highlights a variable that could undermine the benefits of sports.

A new study, based on firsthand observations, found that unhealthy food and sugary drinks were common in kids’ baseball.

The researchers examined whether children and families involved in youth sports increased their risk for obesity by indulging in the high-calorie treats commonly available at the ballpark.

The study concluded, based on the research observations, that it's important to make healthy food choices at the ballpark and bypass the readily available unhealthy options.

"Consult your child’s doctor about managing weight and exercise."

Joseph Skelton, MD, MS, of the Department of Pediatrics and Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, co-authored this study with Megan Irby, MS, of the Department of Pediatrics at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Dr. Skelton and Irby both work with Families in Training, a multi-disciplinary weight management program based on behavior modification, at the Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The researchers conducted an observational scan of foods consumed by players and family members playing youth baseball in northwest North Carolina.

The players were between 8 and 11 years old. The researchers watched 12 games.

The study found that 72 percent of team snacks were high-calorie food items like French fries, candy and cookies. A total of 53 percent of beverages consumed by players were sugar sweetened.

The researchers observed 313 spectators and players who consumed 249 foods and 276 drinks, 89 percent of which were purchased from the concession stand.

Of all the food and drink consumed during the observation period, the researchers found that 73 percent were considered “less-healthy” options.

"Though youth sports are an excellent way to promote physical activity, social interaction and positive health behaviors, the food environments are often characterized by less healthy food options with high-calorie contents and lower nutrient density," Dr. Skelton said in a press statement.

Dr. Irby added, “[A]s seen in this study, games and practices can be upwards of two to three nights a week, and many children participate on multiple sports teams each year. Parents should plan ahead for these busy times and even advocate in their local sports leagues for policies that address snacks and drinks."

These researchers found that children may be consuming more calories at youth sports games and practices than they are burning, which could contribute to childhood obesity and other weight-management issues.

"Despite the benefits of participating in sports, the increased exposure to unhealthy foods and disruption of meal times may increase children's risk for poor nutritional habits that can contribute to weight management issues," Dr. Skelton concluded.

A limitation of the study was the inability to accurately document all foods consumed at the ballpark without being intrusive.

The study was published in the online April 18 in the journal Childhood Obesity.

Research support was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institutes of Health Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career
Development grant and and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

The researchers did not report any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 28, 2014
Last Updated:
April 29, 2014