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Expert Alert

U of M expert available to discuss the poor food environment in youth sports

October 10, 2011

Nearly half of overweight children ages 12-17 participate in youth sports. Sound surprising? One reason may be that youth sport participants, despite being more physically active, report a higher consumption of fast food, sugary beverages like sports drinks, and total calories compared with nonparticipants.

A University of Minnesota expert who can discuss the prevalence of unhealthy food available to youth athletes – and how parents can intervene – is:

Dr. Toben Nelson, assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the School of Public Health

While many factors contribute to weight gain and weight loss, it all boils down to two factors: calories consumed and energy expenditure.

“In youth sports, coaches, parents and athletes can overestimate the number of calories that are burned while participating in practice and games,” Nelson said. “In fact, when you measure activity objectively, athletes are either sedentary or doing light-intensity activities more than half of their time in sports.”

Another reason participating in sports does not protect youth athletes from gaining weight is the sugary sports drinks, which have become a staple at youth sporting events. These types of beverages are designed for athletes who exercise vigorously and continuously for longer than one hour, and most youth athletes aren’t sustaining high activity levels for that period of time. For the most part, kids don’t need the added salt, sugar and calories that are in these drinks.

To have a better idea of just how many calories youth athletes should consume a daily basis, Nelson and his team have developed nutritional guidelines for the athletes and their parents.

“Our research shows that young athletes are surrounded by many unhealthy food choices and few healthy ones when they participate in sports,” Nelson said. “Many parents told us that they don’t like what is available for their kids and they need help to do better.  Our guidelines are designed to provide practical advice for athletes, parents, coaches and organizations to make better food choices available in youth sports.”

The guidelines are available on the study website at:

Nelson is available for media interviews Monday, Oct. 10, from 2 to 5 p.m. To schedule an interview, contact Tim Holtz at or (612) 626-4784; or Emily Jensen at or (612) 624-9163.

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Tags: Academic Health Center

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