Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2008: 19 (3)
The rising prevalence of childhood obesity is of great public
health concern. Recent epidemiological research indicates
that 25% of school-aged children in NSW, Australia are
either overweight or obese.1 Weight gain occurs as a result
of energy imbalance whereby energy intake exceeds energy
expenditure. Both physical activity and dietary intake are
central to this energy equation, and obesity interventions and
policies must consider both of these factors simultaneously to
maximise their effectiveness.2
Canteens at sporting venues offer children food and beverage
purchasing occasions. Despite their relatively small overall
nutrition contribution, with most children attending these
venues once per week,3 these canteens present messages to
children regarding acceptable food choices.4
Double standards for community sports:
promoting active lifestyles but unhealthy diets
Bridget Kelly, Kathy Chapman, Lesley King, Louise Hardy and Louise Farrell
Issue addressed: Overweight and obesity in Australia is an emerging health concern. Obesity prevention
initiatives must consider both physical activity and nutrition to be effective. Community sports venues have
the capacity to promote healthy lifestyles through physical activity as well as healthy food choices.
Methods: A telephone survey was conducted on parents of children aged 5-17 years in NSW to determine the
nature of food and beverages purchased by children at community sporting venues and to determine parent’s
perception of the role that government should play in regulating the types of food and beverages sold at these
Results: The majority of canteens at children’s sporting venues were considered to sell mostly unhealthy
food and beverages (53%). Very few parents reported that canteens sold mostly healthy food and beverages.
Parents reported that their child’s most frequently purchased food and beverage items at outdoor sports
fields were water, chocolate and confectionery, soft drink and sports drinks, and ice cream. At community
swimming pools the most frequently purchased items were ice cream, followed by snack foods, including
chips, cakes and biscuits. Most parents (63%) agreed that government should restrict the types of food and
beverages that can be sold at children’s sporting venues.
Conclusions: Children are receiving inconsistent health messages at sporting venues, with healthy lifestyles
being promoted through sports participation, but unhealthy dietary choices being provided at sports canteens.
Key words: child nutrition, community sports, canteens
Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2008; 19:??-??
The implementation of healthy eating policies at community sporting venues would ensure that physical activity
and good nutrition are promoted simultaneously.
This study aimed to describe the nature of food and beverages
purchased by children at community sporting venues, and
to determine parent’s perception of the healthfulness of
these canteens and the role that government should play
in regulating the types of food and beverages sold at these
A market research company administered the questionnaire
using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI),
between 5 and 8 November 2007. Telephone numbers were
randomly dialled from the company’s database, consisting of
a large representative sample of telephone numbers recruited
from weekly national telephone surveys. Average survey length
was 15 minutes.
Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2008: 19 (3)
Eligible respondents included parents of children aged 5-17
years living in NSW, and who were the main grocery buyer
for that household. The child in the household who had the
most recent birthday was selected as the reference child.
The survey included closed-ended questions to address:
– if parents perceived the canteen to sell mostly healthy,
unhealthy or a mix of healthy and unhealthy food and
beverages. The term ‘unhealthy food’ was defined as
‘food and drinks that are high in fat, sugar or salt, such
as some types of fast food, soft drinks and confectionery
– the food and beverage items that children most frequently
purchased from sporting venues, including both outdoor
sports fields and community swimming pools; and
– the role that government should play in regulating the
types of food products that can be sold to children at
community sporting venues.
These questions formed part of a larger study investigating
parent’s views on factors influencing children’s nutrition and
physical activity, which was approved by the Cancer Council
NSW Ethics Committee.
Data were analysed using SPSS version 14.0 for Windows (SPSS,
Inc, 2004). A Pearson chi-squared test was applied to determine
significant differences in food and beverage purchases between
younger children’s (5-12 year olds) and adolescents (13-17 year
olds). Results were considered significant at the 0.05 level.
Four hundred and two parents participated in the survey, with
an overall response rate of 26%. The majority of respondents
were mothers (78%) with post-school education (77%),
including college, apprenticeship and university qualifications.
There were no significant differences in education level,
marital status or household income for parents of younger
children compared to parents of older children.
Frequently purchased food and beverage items
The food and beverage items most frequently purchased
by children from outdoor sports fields were water (57% of
parents reported that their child usually purchased this item),
chocolate and confectionery (48%), soft drink and sports drinks
(48%) and ice cream and iced confection (44%) (Figure 1). At
community swimming pools, the most frequently purchased
items were ice cream and iced confection (48%), followed by
snack foods, including chips, cakes and biscuits (47%).
At both outdoor sports fields and community swimming pools
older children were significantly more likely to purchase soft
drinks and sports drinks (63% adolescents vs. 40% young
children at outdoor sports fields, p<0.01; 53% vs. 25% at
community swimming pools, p<0.001) and pies and pastries
(38% vs. 23%, p<0.05; 37% vs. 11%, p<0.001) than younger
children. Conversely, younger children were more likely to
purchase fruit juice than their older counterparts (25% young
children vs. 16% adolescents, at both venues, ns), and ice
cream and iced confection (51% vs. 32%, p<0.05) and snack
foods (45% vs. 30%, P=0.05) at outdoor sports fields.
Nature of food and beverages sold at sports canteens
and the role of government in regulating these
Parents reported that the majority of outdoor sporting fields
(67%) and swimming pools (94%) that their child attended
had a canteen. The majority of these venues were considered
to sell mostly unhealthy food and beverages (53%). Very
few parents reported that canteens sold mostly healthy food
and beverages (4% outdoor sporting fields; 2% swimming
Most parents (63%) agreed that government should restrict
the types of food and beverages that can be sold at children’s
With healthy lifestyles being promoted through sports
participation, but unhealthy dietary choices being provided
at sports canteens, children are receiving inconsistent health
messages at community sporting venues. This double standard
appears to be consistent across venues and for different ages.
Due caution should be taken in interpreting this finding, which
is based on parents’ self-report.
Figure 1: Comparison of parents’ reports of food
purchased by their child at outdoor fields and
community swimming pools.
Brief reports Promoting active lifestyles but unhealthy diets
Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2008: 19 (3)
Despite the low response rate, which may have introduced
some element of selection bias, respondents were not aware
of the nature of the survey prior to their refusal to participate.
Eligibility criteria also restricted the response rate, as has been
observed in previous studies.5 This response rate included
refused or terminated interviews, unanswered or engaged calls
after three attempts; and households where the main grocery
buyer was not available at the time of the survey.
To curb rising child obesity levels, population wide strategies
that support both healthy eating and physical activity
participation are required.2 The implementation of healthy
canteen policies at community sporting venues would ensure
that physical activity and good nutrition are promoted
simultaneously. Similar to current practices, which accredit
clubs for responsible alcohol service and providing smoke free
venues, accreditation and incentive systems could be used to
encourage healthy canteen policies.
In NSW, the Hunter New England Area Health Service’s ‘Good
for Kids. Good for Life’ childhood obesity prevention program,
recognises the need for healthy food provision at community
sporting venues, and is working with Good Sports to improve
the nutritional quality of canteens in this area.6 Such an
initiative could be implemented across Australia. Good Sports
was initially developed by the Australian Drug Foundation, to
assist sporting clubs in managing alcohol related problems;
but their extensive penetration into sporting clubs, with more
than 2,000 clubs registered with their accreditation program
Australia-wide,7 puts this organisation in good stead to assist
clubs in other areas of health promotion and accreditation. The
role of state Sport and Recreation Departments in promoting
healthy canteens and in providing funding assistance to Good
Sports should be considered.
Hitherto in Australia, state governments have recognised the
importance of promoting healthy food and beverages through
canteens at other locations, with healthy school canteen
policies now employed across most states and territories,
and in Department of Health facilities in NSW, Queensland
and Western Australia. Canteens at sporting venues have so
far been neglected from this mandate. The development and
evaluation of educational, recognition and policy strategies
that can transform sports canteens into healthy canteens is a
significant priority for sports medicine and public health in
Thank you to the NSW Department of Health, which provided
infrastructure funding to support this project.
1. Booth ML, et al. Trends in the prevalence of overweight and obesity
among young Australians, 1985, 1997, and 2004. Obesity (Silver Spring).
2. World Health Organization. Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic
Diseases. Geneva (CHE): WHO; 2003.
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics [homepage on the Internet]. Canberra (AUST):
ABS; 2006 [cited 2008 Feb 4]. Survey of Children’s Participation in Cultural
and Leisure Activities. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.
4. Bell AC, et al. School canteens: using ripples to create a wave of healthy eating.
Med J Aust. 2005;183:5-6
5. Centre for Epidemiology and Research. NSW Child Health Survey 2001. New
South Wales Public Health Bulletin. 2002;13 Suppl 3:1-84
6. Good for Kids Good for Life [homepage on the Internet]. New Lambton (Aust):
Hunter New England Area Health Service; 2008 [cited 2008 Jan 14]. Creating
a Family Friendly Sports Club. Available from: http://goodforkids.nsw.gov.
7. Good Sports [homepage on the Internet]. Melbourne (AUST): Australian Drug
Foundation; 2008 [cited 2008 Jan 21]. Good Sports. Available from: http://www.
Bridget Kelly, Cancer Council NSW, Sydney, New South Wales and NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity, School of Public
Health, University of Sydney, New South Wales
Kathy Chapman, Cancer Council NSW, Sydney, New South Wales
Lesley King, Louise Hardy, NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity, School of Public Health, University of Sydney,
New South Wales
Louise Farrell, NSW Centre for Physical Activity and Health, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, New South Wales
Bridget Kelly, Cancer Council NSW, PO Box 572, Kings Cross New South Wales 1340. Fax: (02) 8302 3530;
Kelly et al. Brief report