(RxWiki News) Playing a sport is a healthy physical activity for kids, but does it promote healthy food and drink choices as well?
Over 75 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls in middle elementary grades play sports. It has already been shown that high school kids who play sports eat more fruits and vegetables than those who don't play sports, but food and drink habits in elementary kids who play sports have not been well studied.
Recently, a research team investigated whether good food habits start with elementary school athletes.They found that elementary school children who participated in sports consumed more fruits and vegetables but didn't make as healthy drink choices.
"Limit young kids' consumption of diet soda and fruit drinks."
Katherine Skala Dortch, DrPH, CHES, from the University of Texas led a group of researchers who investigated the eating habits of elementary school children who played sports.
The researchers collected data on 5,035 Texas fourth graders between 2009 and 2010. Sports participation was noted and questionnaires were used to get more information on physical activity in the last week and food consumed the previous day. Heights and weights of the children were measured. Food consumption data from boys and girls was analyzed separately.
Slightly more of the study participants were boys. More than 48 percent of the children were Hispanic, 24 percent were whites and 13 percent were African-Americans. About 55 percent of the children were normal weight, 19 percent were overweight, 24 percent were obese and 2 percent were underweight.
The results of the study showed that the more sports boys played, the greater the chances were that they ate more fruits and vegetables compared to boys who did not play on any sports team.
Compared to boys who did not play sports, boys who played on one sports team had 1.8 times the odds of eating orange vegetables like carrots. Boys who played on three sports teams had a 3.4 fold higher chance of eating orange vegetables and a 2.5 fold higher chance of eating other vegetables. They had a 3.4 fold higher chance of eating fruit than boys who did not play sports.
Boys who played on three or more sports teams had 1.8 times higher odds of drinking fruit-flavored drinks that were not 100 percent fruit juice.
Consumption of fruits and vegetables did not predictably increase with the number of sports teams the girls played on. Girls who played on two sports teams were 2.9 times more likely to eat fruit than girls who played no sports, but girl who played three or more sports had only two times higher odds of eating fruit.
Girls who played on three or more sports teams had 2.8 times the chance of eating orange vegetables and 2.4 times the chance of eating green vegetables. Girls who played on three or more sports teams had a 1.9 times higher odds of drinking diet soda.
With the exception of the diet soda consumed by girls and fruit drinks the boys drank, the only other unhealthy food eaten that the researchers noted was an increase in frozen desserts eaten by girls who played two or more sports.
The authors acknowledged that the healthy diet choices seen in this study may have been associated with playing sports, but could also have been influenced by parents who fed their family healthy food.
"Sports teams, then, provide a ready setting to educate children about good nutritional choices, including the disadvantage of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages," the authors recommended.
One limitation of the study noted by the authors was that sports participation was included from the previous year, but food consumption information was collected from the previous day.
Dr. Dortch's research was published in the January issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.
Funding for this study came from the National Institute of Health, The Texas Department of State Health and the Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.
The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.