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Sports drinks: more than meets the taste bud

Photo: zzellers via Flickr

Many schools across the country are swapping out soda for sports drinks in their vending machines, thinking they’re making a more nutritional choice for their students.

They’re wrong.

Many sports drinks sold in the United States contain higher amounts of sugar than other beverages, adding calories to diets and contributing to the national obesity epidemic.  In addition, research shows many young people – athletes included – aren’t burning off the number of calories they or their parents may believe.

Could sports drinks actually be fueling the obesity epidemic in our country? Mary Story Ph.D., R. D., professor of epidemiology and senior associate dean for academic and student affairs, University of Minnesota School of Public Health offered some insight.

“We’re seeing schools, parents and community members making the decision to swap soda for sports drinks thinking they’re improving children’s consumption of sugary-sweetened beverages,” said Story. “But really, they’re replacing one sugary drink for another.”

Over the past three decades, U.S. children and adolescents have significantly increased their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which many people assume only means sodas. However, this also includes sweetened tea, fruit-flavored drinks, punches and even sports drinks.

Story recently published a research review through Healthy Eating Research, which examined consumption of sports drinks and the related health implications.

As a result, Story found that:

  • In 2010, Gatorade TV ads were ranked in the top five most-advertised products seen by children and adolescents. Powerade TV ads were ranked twenty-sixth.
  • Though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends most children and adolescents shouldn’t consume sports drinks, more than 27% of parents believe sports drinks are healthy.
  • During the 2006–2007 school year, the market share of sports drinks in schools increased from 14.6% in 2004 to 20%, while sodas decreased from 39.9% to 29.8%.

According to Story, sports drinks are recommended only for individuals engaged in prolonged vigorous physical activity. For most children and adolescents, consuming water before, during, and after physical activity provides the necessary hydration.

“Sports drinks play an important role for people engaging in vigorous physical activity for more than one hour,” said Story. “Sitting at a desk during class or on the bench during a game doesn’t fall under that category.”

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