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Wellington research shows how junk food dominates sport

A University of Otago, Wellington, study has highlighted the contrast between the healthy activity on the court or field and the food sold at sports venues.

Junk food dominates New Zealand sport venues, according to new research led by the University of Otago, Wellington. The study, funded by the Health Research Council of NZ, investigated what kinds of food are available in sports settings.

Chips and other fried foods, chocolate and fizzy soft drinks were the most common foods sold at these venues.

“Unfortunately, we have competing players in the sport – healthy physical activity and unhealthy food,” says co-author Professor Louise Signal from the University of Otago, Wellington.

The researchers looked at food sold at 31 rugby and 20 netball venues and interviewed sports administrators from a range of sports about the food environment in NZ sport

Food was sold at 95 percent of netball venues and 45 percent of rugby venues. The researchers found 68 percent of all food items sold at netball venues were classified as unhealthy. That compares to 62 percent of all foods sold at rugby venues.

Food sales generated no income for most sports organisations with food services contracted to caterers. Interviewees suggested that generally caterers have control of food provision and they need to make a profit.

“Healthy nutrition policies in sports clubs are urgently needed. This requires support from health agencies and leadership from national sports organisations,” says Professor Signal.

New Zealand has very high rates of obesity, with almost one in three adults obese and over one in 10 children.

“Given our obesity epidemic, NZ should reconsider this association between junk food and sport,” she says. Children and parents agree, according to earlier research.

“New Zealand has high levels of participation in sport which is good for our wellbeing but we don’t want this undone by a diet of junk food.”