Nutrition Composition of Snacks Offered to Young Recreational Soccer Players

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Virginia Tech

Snacking behavior has changed dramatically over the past few decades, with snacking frequency reaching upwards of three times per day and comprising 27% of daily calorie intake. Research has shown that the largest food groupings from snacks are grain-based desserts, sweetened beverages, and salty snacks. Previous studies have also shown that children are influenced by their peers. Youth sports are a very popular venue for children and opportunity for physical activity, with soccer becoming one of the most popular sports among young children in the US. Youth sports, especially soccer, can be a powerful tool for promoting physical activity and healthy eating for overall health and obesity prevention. The goal of this study was to examine the nutrition composition of snacks and beverages offered to young children within a soccer league. The study utilized a cross-sectional observational study of snack foods and beverages offered to children participating in a voluntary youth soccer league in southwest Virginia. Snacks offered to children in the under-five (U5) and under-six (U6) years of age categories were observed during weekly matches using an observational checklist reflecting commonly consumed snack foods and beverages. The checklist included brand name, size of food item/beverage, and number of children (by gender) for each team observed. Undergraduate and graduate nutrition students were trained as observers to assess snacks that were offered, specifically visual item identification and portion size estimation. Food items were then classified into different food and beverage categories, including: sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and 100% fruit juices; water; dairy (beverage); fruits; savory (salty) snacks; grain-based desserts; candy and dairy (food). Nutrition information was gathered for each food item and beverage and entered into a database: calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat, saturated fat, sodium, sugar, fiber, vitamin C, iron and calcium. Descriptive statistics were then computed for all nutrients by all snacks combined and by snack category across all observations. Snacks were also compared to the Smart Snacks in Schools nutrition standards. Across all teams there were a total of 687 items offered to the children: 253 beverages and 434 foods. They offered a mean of 205 calories per child. The most popular beverages were SSBs. The most popular snacks were grain-based desserts (136, 31.3% of all snack foods), followed by fruit (124, 28.5%) and savory snacks (117, 26.9%). No vegetables were served during the observations. Snacks within the savory snack item category provided the most calories per child at 63, followed by grain-based desserts, 58. When offered and served with beverages, snacks offered with fruit had a more favorable nutrition profile with lower mean kilocalories, lower sodium, and lower sugars than snacks without fruit. They were also more likely to meet the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards: 65.4% compared to 25.6%. Only 44.4% of all snack foods and beverages taken by youth players met the smart snacks standards. Categorically, 67.6% of all grain-based deserts, 100% of all candy and 100% of all dairy beverages taken by youth players did not meet the smart snacks standards. Further research is warranted to identify motivating factors for providing unhealthy snacks and beverages to youth during sporting events. There are several limitations, including generalizability of this sample, however the study provides novel insight into snacks offered to young children during recreational soccer and can help inform future strategies and interventions to promote healthier snacks.

Snacks, Sports, Children