Kids get more calories from the snacks they eat after sports than they burn while playing, which could add up to thousands of extra calories a year, a new study warns.
"So many kids are at games just to get their treat afterwards, which really isn't helping to develop healthy habits long term," said senior study author Lori Spruance, an assistant professor of public health at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. "The reward should be, 'I got to have fun, I got to run around with my friend or score a goal.'"
For the study, Spruance and her team tracked the activity levels of third- and fourth-graders during 189 games of soccer, flag football, baseball and softball, along with their post-game snacks.
The researchers noted that parents supplied snacks 80% of the time, and nearly 90% of the post-game drinks were sugar-sweetened.
While kids burned an average 170 calories per game, they consumed an average 213 calories afterward, the study revealed. On average, that included 26.4 grams of sugar -- more than the total daily recommendation of 25 grams. Sugary drinks were the main source.
The 43-calorie difference between snacking and what kids burn off while playing might seem trivial, but it could add up to thousands of extra calories a year if a child plays once or twice a week, the researchers noted in a BYU news release.
Spruance's team also suggested that organized sports may not provide enough physical activity for kids. Those in the study averaged 27 minutes of activity per game, with soccer players being the most active and softball players the least. Starting around age 5, kids need 60 minutes of physical activity per day, the study authors said.
The report was published in the March issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.
Co-author Jay Maddock, a professor of public health at Texas A&M University in College Station, pointed out that little changes can make a big difference in promoting healthy body weights.
"So when your children are playing sports, we recommend making the healthy choice and choosing water, fruits and vegetables and a healthy protein source, like nuts," he advised.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about sports nutrition.