Televised or streamed sporting events are seen by millions of viewers, many of which are children. The screen time is staggering – recent research shows children, adolescents, and teens spend an average of 7 hours and 11 minutes of screen media per day
Research also shows that children are particularly susceptible to advertisements, and these sporting events are filled with company sponsorships and commercials.
Are these sponsorships and ads negatively impacting children’s health and food choices?
A study looking at the sponsors of the top 10 most-viewed sports by children found some startling trends. All sports, except the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), had at least one food and/or non-alcoholic beverage sponsor (Bragg et al., 2018). The NFL showed to have the highest child viewership and 27% of their sponsors were a food and/or non-alcoholic beverage company (Bragg et al., 2018).
The ads were assessed using an established 100-point nutrition scoring system to assess nutritional value of the foods. The higher the score, the more nutritious the food, and scores below 64 indicate non-nutritional foods. The foods and beverages shown had an average score of 34.39, leaving much room for improvement. The Little League scored at 44.9, which is significantly higher, but still not desirable.
So what can we do about this?
One way is to voice our opinions. McDonalds recently declined to sponsor the Olympics after sponsoring it for decades due to increased public protest. Another is to encourage children to limit their screen time and to play the sports instead of watching them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting screen time in children, especially younger children, and recommends at least an hour of physical activity a day. And, lastly, we can’t avoid advertisements, but we can control what’s available for children to choose to eat. Keeping healthy snacks at home encourages healthy food choices. Preparing food at home and getting kids involved is a great opportunity to teach them about food and understanding balance. Establishing healthy eating routines during the formative years encourages healthy kids to grow into healthy adults.