Teens who participate in sports have better eating habits than their peers who do not, a new study shows.
However, the study showed that young women - athletes and nonathletes - don’t get enough calcium fail to meet requirements for iron intake, Dr. Jillian K. Croll of the Eating Disorders Institute in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, and her colleagues report.
Croll and her team also found that junior high and high school students participating in activities in which weight is considered important, such as gymnastics, ice skating and wrestling, had eating habits that were as good or better than those of their peers participating in team sports like soccer and football.
While studies have shown that participants in weight-related sports often take in fewer calories and nutrients than they need, “it may be that youth involved in sports at a less elite level of athletics, such as the junior high and high school levels, are able to maintain better nutrient profiles than athletes involved at an elite level,” Croll and her colleagues suggest in their report, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
The researchers compared eating habits in teens from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota who were divided into three groups: 250 participated regularly in a weight-related sport, 1,465 played a power team sport, and 858 did not regularly participate in any sport. All of the study participants filled out a 221-item questionnaire on their eating habits.
Girls participating in weight-related sports ate breakfast, snacks and dinner more frequently than those who played power team sports or were not involved in sports, the researchers found. While sport-involved girls consumed slightly more calcium than non-athletes, their intake still fell below the daily requirement of 1,300 mg. All girls could make up the calcium shortfall, Croll and her team note, with a single serving of a calcium-rich dairy food. Less than 30 percent of all girls in the survey got enough iron.
Boys who didn’t play sports at all ate breakfast and lunch less often than sport-involved males. Male athletes were more likely than their non-athletic peers to meet recommended daily requirements for calcium intake. They also consumed more iron and zinc, although boys in all three groups got enough of these nutrients.
The findings don’t back up concerns that participants in weight-related sports are at greater risk of poor nutrition, Croll and her team conclude. “The positive outcomes typically associated with adolescent sport participation, such as increased self-esteem and emotional well-being, may extend to improved eating habits and nutritional intake as compared with non-sport involved peers.”
SOURCE; Journal of the American Dietetic Association, May 2006.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD