NZ sport is saturated with junk food - research

There's too much junk food associated with sport - researchers.Photo / Thinkstock
There's too much junk food associated with sport - researchers.Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealand sport is saturated with junk food, undermining the sector's ability to promote healthy eating to players and at odds with its healthy nature, according to university researchers.

Common foods included sweets, chips, burgers and sugary drinks, according to lead researcher Professor Louise Signal of the University of Otago, Wellington.

Read more: Snacking as a spectator at sport and how to avoid a blowout.

"There is still room for treats in our lives, but given the alarmingly high rates of overweight and obesity among our children, the saturation of junk food in sport needs to be examined," she said.

The research by the Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit at Otago University follows on from earlier work which found unhealthy food and drink companies sponsor popular, televised sports in New Zealand. McDonalds and Coke were the greatest product sponsors, as they were at the London Olympics.

Such sponsorship promoted consumption of junk food and undermined recommendations promoting healthy eating, Professor Signal said.

Rugby had the most unhealthy sponsorship by far, although the sport also had a healthy sponsorship from Weetbix which was positive, the researchers said.

Sponsors were classified as healthy or unhealthy using the New Zealand Food and Beverage Classification System nutrient criteria for energy, fat, sodium and fibre levels.

According to the university's Dr Moira Smith, whose PhD explores the perceptions of children and parents about food in sport, while many parents believed children's sport would not be sustainable without food and drink sponsorship, food and drink sponsors likely contributed only small amounts of funding to children's sport.

"Often benefits are in kind, such as player of the day vouchers which promote unhealthy food to children. There is a funding fallacy about junk food and sport in New Zealand," Dr Smith said.

Junk food also dominated sport in Australia, according to visiting nutritionist Dr Bridget Kelly.

Dr Kelly is a keynote speaker at workshops on Food in Sport being held in Wellington and Auckland today and tomorrow with sports administrators, coaches, caterers, teachers and others interested in food in sport.

The research is funded by the Health Research Council.


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