Nutrition Knowledge among Adolescent High School Female Athletes

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

North Americans have become more physically active and are participating in exercise and diet programs for health, recreation, and well-being purposes. It has become important to clarify and quantify the specific elements which lead to health and fitness.

According to the Position Papers of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Canadian Dietetic Association (CDA), "the importance of diet and healthful food choices in optimizing health status, fitness levels, and athletic performance has been recognized by both participants and professionals" (1987, p. 934; 1993, p. 693). They further state that adolescent athletes require accurate information establishing safe weight and body composition goals. Another important factor addressed by the ADA position papers was that the diets of some adolescent athletes, particularly females, are poor in providing energy and nutrients. Since adolescents' nutrition requirements are high due to growth and development factors, involvement in competitive sports increases the importance of nutrition.

Potter and Wood (1991) stated that athletes' desire for accurate and practical nutrition information represents an increasing challenge and responsibility for dietitians, teachers, and coaches. Further, they note that more instructional materials need to be developed. There is, however, a lack of research focused on developing the most effective ways to educate athletes about sports nutrition.

Warren, Bonner, and Stitt (1985) indicated that coaches were in need of additional information regarding fluids, food supplements, and methods for gaining or losing weight. In addition, they stated that nutrition information should be developed and presented in a scientific format for implementation by coaches. Other studies have focused on the nutrition knowledge and practices of high school athletes. Douglas and Douglas (1984) found that athletes had limited knowledge of nutrition and that females did not use their knowledge in making proper food choices.

Contento, Manning, and Shannon (1992) stated that "nutrition education generally had a positive effect on cognitive outcomes such as nutrition knowledge, diet-related skills, behavioral expectations, and self-efficacy" (p. 247). However, according to Potter and Wood (1991), Contento et al. (1992), and Schlicker, Borra, and Regan (1994), even though gains in knowledge represent a step forward in nutrition education, these programs tended to have little effect on behavior.

Werblow, Fox, and Henneman (1978) conducted a study with female athletes and concluded that nutrition education programs must provide information that is relevant to the individuals involved. The study had two key variables: weight control and sports performance. They suggested that interest in sports nutrition by female athletes may be the vehicle for an effective approach to general nutrition education.

Past studies of nutrition knowledge and practices with teenage athletes have invariably discussed the motivational factors required to enhance the learning and application of sound nutrition principles. Two motivating factors that have been identified in several studies are weight control and level of performance. These studies also emphasize the need for nutrition education as an essential component of the training program for female athletes.

Adolescent females tend to have nutritionally inadequate diets and thus they may be at great risk when taxing their bodies in rigorous training schedules. Athletes as a group are very vulnerable to erroneous nutrition information as they attempt to gain a competitive edge (Pratt & Walberg, 1988).

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of an original sports nutrition education program in improving nutrition knowledge of high school varsity football players in Southern California.

METHOD

Subjects

A total of 72 females ranging in age from 14 to 18 years (74% of whom never took a high school course which included a nutrition component) from eight high school varsity softball teams participated in a 6-week study. …