Exploration of Factors Influencing Sports Snacks Decisions Among Parents and Coaches of Young, Recreational Soccer Players

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Virginia Tech


Organized sports offer an opportunity to promote physical activity and healthy eating. However, current data suggest that youth sports settings may not necessarily provide these benefits. In one study, youth were sedentary nearly half of a soccer match and in another foods and beverages offered at different youth sporting events were found to be energy-dense with little nutritional value. Parents, coaches and their respective sports organizations have the capacity to support a positive sports environment by promoting nutritious foods and beverages as well as optimal movement. To date, there is little research available on physical activity and sports trends of younger audiences, as well as perceptions of coaches and parents of young children toward sports snacks and policies to support healthy eating. The goal of these three studies were to better understand the youth soccer setting as an opportunity to address healthy eating and physical activity.

Study 1

Objective: Assess snack offerings of parents and coaches of young soccer players, and policies. Methods: Beverage and Snack Questionnaires were distributed among all parents (n=120) and coaches (23) participating in recreational under five (U5) and under six (U6) soccer. The questionnaires assessed: socio-demographic information; types, as well as frequency, of snacks and beverages offered to children; reasons for snack and beverage choices; and attitudes toward snack policies. Results: Of the 44 parents and 23 coaches that participated, nutrition was ranked as the number one factor in choosing snacks and beverages for children participating in soccer. Yet parents and coaches reported offering many low-nutrient dense foods to their children as snacks. Coaches were receptive to limiting snack options and recommending healthy alternatives.

Study 2

Objective: Observe snack offerings for young, recreational soccer players at combined practices and games to determine nutrient content and energy density of the foods and beverages provided. Methods: Snack observations for multiple, randomly selected teams were recorded using an observational checklist by trained researchers following all scheduled combined practices/games. Mean values across all snack foods and beverages were computed for the following key nutrients: calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and sodium. Results: Offered snacks were high in sugar, contributing nearly 77% of recommended total sugar intake per day, and low in sodium, fiber, and protein.

Study 3

Objective: Determine the level of physical activity among young soccer players. Methods: Six random U5 and U6 teams were selected with 36 eligible players to participate in accelerometer collection data. Participants wore magnetic running pouches containing an accelerometer for a combined practice/game totaling 60 minutes. Informed, voluntary consent was obtained from each child and parent. Results: For the entire recorded session, average speed was 2.2 km/hour, average distance was 1.3 miles. Children were considered sedentary 55.0% of the recorded time.

Discussion and Conclusions

Organized sports settings offer an ideal avenue for promoting health and wellness among youth athletes. The current culture unfortunately promotes unhealthy snacking and sub-optimal physical activity. While the location and sample sizes limit generalizability, our results support research conducted with older children and highlight the importance of nutrition education for parents and coaches, as well as the potential for snack policies and strategies to encourage more vigorous physical activity in youth sports settings.

Youth, sports, snacks, policies, environment