Tuesday, May 8, 2012

sports nutrition pitfalls

Childhood obesity is a widespread problem in America.  Obesity is becoming a normal part of American culture.  Just this week there have been two publications, one national and one local, addressing this issue.  The CDC now projects that 42% of Americans could be obese by 2030 and that multiple strategies will be needed to prevent this.  The latest CDC data found 17% of US children obese, which is at least triple the rate of one generation ago. Meanwhile, the Wichita Eagle carried an article yesterday about nutrition for kids active in sports.  I liked most of what this article had to say, but was disappointed at the photos in the article which featured sports drink and juice as part of a healthy diet for athletic children.

Many concerned parents of overweight and obese children try to increase their healthy habits by getting their child involved in athletics.  This is a great idea. However, there are several pitfalls for well-meaning parents.  The worst offender is the "snack and drink sign-up sheet".  If getting your child on a soccer team means downing a Gatorade during game play (310 calories in 12 oz), and eating a Quaker chocolate chip granola bar as an after-game treat (100 calories), then your child just ate more than double the amount of calories burned during their soccer game (about 150 calories for a 30-45 minute game).  This is obviously a problem. It's a cultural problem.  Why would the local YMCA encourage this habit by providing copies of the snack and drink sign-up sheet for volunteer coaches?  Why do we as a society of parents allow the snack and drink sign-up sheet system?  Why can't our kids just drink water like we did when we were children?

A second pitfall is allowing a child to eat more if they become more physically active.  It's true that kids may feel hungrier if they are more active, but parents have to recognize that an overweight child should not increase their already too high daily calories if they become physically more active.  That can undo all the good you are striving to help your child accomplish.  

If you are struggling with finding ways to get your child to a healthy BMI, it can help to visit your pediatrician and/or a dietician, who might offer a step-wise approach and check on growth at regular intervals to gauge your progress. But it also might help to be the brave parent who suggests at the next practice that your kids' team be a "water bottle" team, and not a "snack and drink sign-up sheet" team.