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Another Voice: Youth soccer players don't need sugary snacks

By Jamie S. Bodenlos

It’s the fall season and the cool weather is here. Kids soccer season is in full swing and many bleary-eyed parents are showing up at soccer fields early on Saturday mornings with child and coffee in hand. My 5-year-old son is one of those children. He has been enjoying the sport and we have seen significant improvement in his skills. However, when I ask him why he loves soccer and picks it as his favorite sport, he says it’s because of the sweets that parents give him after the game.

As a parent and clinical psychologist trained in behavioral weight loss strategies, I’m very aware of the food that I consume and what I give my child. As approximately one in five school age children is obese and many of those children will spend their lives obese, we need to be conscientious of the decisions we make on a daily basis and what these choices teach our children.

One of the main reasons parents get their children involved in sports is to encourage physical activity, which is critical to weight management. However, signing a child up for a sport is not enough, we must also teach them healthy eating habits.

Just last week, the postgame snack for our 4- and 5-year-olds was a Capri fruit drink box, gummy bears and Cheez-Its. The Capri Sun box had 16 grams of sugar and a serving of gummy bears has 20-21 grams of sugar. That is more than 35 grams of sugar given to children after playing on the field, at varying intensities, for 30 minutes of soccer. This exceeds the American Heart Association’s recommendations that children get no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day.

It seems like an appropriate postgame snack would complement the healthy message we are trying to give our children by participating in a sport, like giving them one of their two servings of fruits they are encouraged to consume a day. Given the obesity epidemic and devastating health consequences of excess weight, we must look critically at the types of foods we give our children as they are learning eating habits early on.

Sugar is of particular concern given its addictive properties. Recent studies have equated the consumption of sugar with using addictive drugs like cocaine as the same brain areas that are activated when a person uses cocaine are activated when consuming sugar. The consumption of sugar leaves individuals craving more and it can set up an addictive pattern of behavior which can be hard to break.

Maybe we need to do away with postgame snacks altogether. Do our kids really need food? Most of us feed our kids before we take them to games. Let’s break this culture of post-sport snacks. Everyone wins and we (and our children) can focus on enjoying the game.

Jamie S. Bodenlos, Ph.D., is a clinical health psychologist and associate professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

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