Sport and Childhood Obesity

Sport Makes you Phat, not Fat

Recently I’ve come across a number of articles and blogs responding to a University of Minnesota study that compared youth participation in organized sport and childhood obesity.  Not that sport decreases the incidence of unhealthy weight in children, but is the actual cause of it.

One blog in particular drew my attention: “How youth sport makes kids fat”.

Initially, trying to understand what the title was implying was a lot like challenging grade six math homework with my daughter.  You know the same math which caused our parents to have mental breakdowns at the kitchen table?  But like our parents, we realize that the process itself is the same; it’s merely the wording that’s different.

What the purveyors of this study really meant to say was parents.  Parents make their kids fat.

Are we as parents too busy or just lazy?

The University of Minnesota study states that the environment of organized sport itself is the culprit.  The consistent use of  quick, processed foods for pre-game meals and post competition snacks,  which are easy to pick up and liked by the kids, are a direct result of the culture of organized sport.

 Bob Cook, contributor and author of the previously mentioned title, agrees with an emphatic” No kidding” and quotes an interview by KARE11 – TV in Minneapolis-St Paul Minnesota with Prof. Toben Nelson of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

“We think of sport as being something that is healthy for kids. But in fact, the food environment in sports is one that’s particularly unhealthy,” stated Nelson, adding “What we found talking to parents is they are rushing around trying to get to the practices, the events,” Nelson explained. “As a result they end up eating a lot more fast food.”

Granted, the speed at which family life runs tends to lead families to adopt a fast food diet on occasion.  The time between getting off work and picking up kids doesn’t always allow time for proper home cooked meals. Busy work schedules combined with hectic children’s recreation commitments sometimes force parents to pick up food along the way to their child’s practices and games because its quick and they are short on time. 

Parents are under a lot of pressure to get their kids involved in some form of activity.  We are told our children’s generation will be the first one in existence to possibly not out live its parents.  Therefore, society sees an “overweight” kid and says “get that kid active”. Thus, he or she is forced into soccer or football or swimming as a counter to the societal pressure.

That doesn’t however excuse the conductors of this study, nor its supporters to conclude that sport is a contributor to childhood obesity.  Soccer does not biggie size your kids combo as a reward for scoring a goal. 

Prof. Nelson even goes so far as to state that parents should be warned of the dangers of sport’s food culture, stating they need “to be more aware of the food environment in sport”.

Parent’s aren’t under any greater time constraint if they hit the eight items and under line at the local grocery store at the dinner hour than if they use the drive through at any fast food establishment.  A bag of baby carrots, package of bagels and bottle of juice isn’t as glamorous as a Big Mac combo, but its quick, easy, healthy and cost-effective.  Something all parents can get behind.

I am by no means of picture of physical fitness, sport nutrition nor one of the “hectoring nannies” spouting healthy alternatives as Mr. Cook mentions.  I can take down a Big Mac with the best of them and have run the route of the drive through for a kids meal when time is of the essence.  I am by no means a nutritional saint, but I don’t however condone the shifting of blame to an activity that doesn’t have the voice to defend itself.  Sport doesn’t open its wallet and the kids don’t drive the car to the drive through.

Speaking of kids, results have shown that they are not only able but willing to make healthy choices on their own.

Stewart Park in Minneapolis recently started providing healthier snack options in its vending machines.

Supervisor, Al Bangoura was quoted as saying,”It’s been going really well. Kids thought that they didn’t like it, until they tried the product and realized it is not bad”.

So parents, lets all take it on the chin.  Tell the academics to leave sport alone.  What did it ever do to you, other than improve your health, teach you team work, keep you active, out of trouble, off the streets, get you outside, or help you make friends.

At least thats how its Scene from here



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