Kids, Sports, and Healthy Living: This is Your Moment

Sports have always been used as a catalyst to teach kids important life lessons like teamwork, sportsmanship, coping with adversity, and the importance of hard work. We are missing opportunities to leverage sports as a way to teach kids about healthy lifestyles.

Sports-related junk food marketing to kids is helping to undermine the naturally symbiotic relationship between physical activity and healthy eating. All of us – parents, coaches, and administrators – need to push back against this with our words and our actions.

Check out this Sports Snacktivism handbook from Real Mom nutrition for a good place to start – combatting junk on the sidelines.

Imagine for a moment if every pee wee soccer player and high school football star was taught by their parents and coaches – and the idea was reinforced by the popular culture – that caring for your body and eating healthfully was part and parcel of the sports lifestyle?

Few would argue that there is a natural relationship between eating healthy food and exercising, being active, and playing sports. Those of us who are involved with exercise or sports enough to be concerned with performance tend to learn along the way that fueling our bodies with something truly nutritious is going to help us perform.

But kids aren’t seeing their sports idols as yogurt and banana eaters. They think of them as Gatorade guzzlers and chicken nugget gobblers, because that’s what they hawk on the screen. The deluge of junk food advertising at sports events from the Olympics to little league – has helped to separate sports and athletics from healthy eating in our collective minds, most especially those of children.

The Olympics’ stomach-turning McDonald’s and Coke binge has sparked momentum in this battle and this is a moment when we can all step in with some grassroots support. Sign this petition from Corporate Accountability International and the Yale Rudd Center asking Olympians to reject McDonald’s sponsorships. The letter reads, in part:

Our Olympic champions’ achievements are an inspiration and example to us all, especially children. It sends the wrong signal when medalists and other athletes take sponsorships from McDonald’s, a corporation driving an epidemic of diet-related disease by aggressively marketing its unhealthy products to children.

Keeping Greasy McFood out of school stadiums and sports arenas is a tough battle, especially when it comes to schools. I’m well aware that for a cash-strapped school district, a Coca-Cola billboard in a high school sports stadium can make all the difference. But our schools are our home turf, and we need to defend them.

And then there are the really important influencers in children’s daily lives. Parents and coaches have the power and the ability to start conversations, make choices at the grocery store, and most of all, leverage those teachable moments. Kids grow up fast. Let’s make the most of the moment.

 

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