The food and beverages available to and consumed by youth athletes when they participate in organized sports, particularly at event concession stands, is often unhealthy, according to a study by researchers at the University of Minnesota. (Thomas, 2013)
The consumption of concession stand fare (e.g. candy, ice cream, doughnuts, pizza, hot dogs, "taco-in-a-bag," chips, cheese puffs, nachos) was particularly common among players in traveling programs playing multiple games in one day who need to eat between games and whose parents do not pack food ahead of time.
Barriers to change
But many parents in the study said they found it challenging to plan ahead to pack healthy snacks during travel team and tournament play because of busy schedules and a time crunch, which increased their perceived need for convenience food.
Most parents also questioned the feasibility of providing healthful food and beverages at youth sports venues, particularly in concession stands, citing a number of barriers to change (concern over losing profits by selling healthful food, limited availability of healthful, non-perishable, prepackaged food at stores where concession food is typically bought (e.g. large discount stores such as Sam's Club), although a number of parents offered sugggestions on ways to improve concession stand fare by including more healthful options such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, milk and sub sandwiches instead of hot dogs and nachos, and rearranging the layout of food and beverages to make more healthful food more prominent and visually appealing.
Parents said kids are "adaptable" and "just want to spend money," so they will buy what is available. But, they told researchers that it would be unrealistic to expect apples to sell when they are sitting right next to candy, salty snacks, and nachos in the concession stand.
Taking a stand
"Parents can lead on this issue by making healthy choices available, volunteering to have more fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and healthy beverages in concession stands, and asking for them where they are not available, says Toben F. Nelson, ScD., author of the University of Minnesota study. "Most youth sports organizations are run by parents, so parents can take on these roles and create the change they want to see. I think there is more support out there for healthy choices than some realize."
For their part, youth sports organizations can stock concession stands with healthier food choices. "Instead of trying to squeeze every last nickel out of families in sport by selling them unhealthy food, sport organizations could instead choose to create an environment that is healthy for kids and their families. Parents can take an active role in trying to make this happen," says Nelson.
Indeed, a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Iowa (Laroche, 2014) found that unhealthy concession stand food could gradually be replaced with more healthy choices without without a loss of revenue, profits, or customer satisfaction.
Thomas M, Nelson TF, Harwood E, Neumark-Sztainer D. Exploring Parent Perceptions of the Food Environment in Youth Sport. J Nutrition Ed Behav. 2012;44(4):365-371.
Laroche H, Ford C, Hansen K, Cai X, Just DR, Hanks AS, Wansik B. Concession stand makeovers: a pilot study of offering healthy foods at high school concession stands. J Public Health 2014;doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdu015 (first published online March 12, 2014)