Schools across the country are swapping out soda for sports drinks in vending machines, thinking they’re making a more nutritional choice for students.
But most 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 as many calories as they think they are when exercising.
Could sports drinks actually be fueling the obesity epidemic in our country? SPH professor Mary Story offers 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,” says 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. But the beverages also include sweetened tea, fruit-flavored drinks, punches, and sports drinks.
Story recently published a research review through Healthy Eating Research, which examined consumption of sports drinks and related health implications. She 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 percent of parents believe sports drinks are healthy.
- The market share of sports drinks in schools increased from 15 percent in 2004 to 20 percent during the 2006-2007 school year, while sodas decreased from 40 percent to 30 percent.
According to Story, sports drinks are recommended only for individuals engaged in prolonged intense 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,” says Story. “Sitting at a desk during class or on the bench during a game doesn’t fall under that category.”