How do we turn the tide so that kids ask for oranges instead of lollies? Photo: Damian White
Aussies love sport and Aussies love food, and so often the two go together.
But when did sport become synonymous with junk food? And how do we turn back the tide so that healthy food, especially where our kids engage in sport, just makes sense?
If we think of anywhere our kids play or watch sport, what food do we think of? At the MCG it's hot chips and soft drink. Saturday sport often means sponsorship by fast food chains, plus sausage sizzles and soft drink after the game. Fast-food buckets sit on our kids' heads at the cricket and the local pool kiosk is teeming with sweets.
We recently studied what kids bought from YMCA centres before they introduced a healthy food policy. We found that more than nine out of 10 items children bought from the cafe were unhealthy. Similarly, a study across a number of junior netball clubs in Australia found that ice-cream and cake were the most frequently provided snacks before the game.
We need to stop and think about what message this is sending our kids.
A study asking Australian children about the fast-food companies sponsoring their sporting activities found kids thought these sponsors were "cool" and wanted to return the favour to sponsors by buying their products.
So, what can we do?
We need to make healthy food and water the new norm everywhere children play sport. This is the responsibility of governments, the sports clubs and facilities, and all of us who care about our children's health.
Many are starting to do this. In Victoria, the government, and associated non-government organisations like VicHealth and Nutrition Australia, have developed handy resources and toolkits to help large centres and small clubs transition to healthier food.
Today, if you go into many sports and recreation centres around the state you will see the healthier choices are becoming the easier choices, with greater variety, prominence and price discounting.
This is not only a relief to many parents and carers, sick of battling the constant nagging as they exit past the wall of hot chips and soft drink. It also sets our kids up for a better understanding of the need for good food and water to support physical activity.
For this, and so many other important reasons, healthy food in kids' sporting environments just makes sense.
Anna Peeters is professor of epidemiology and equity in public health and an associate director of the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University, Victoria.