Ban on sports drinks won't stop obesity
Instead of ensuring that schools serve healthy and appetizing cafeteria food, national legislators are considering a trivial ban on sports drinks like Gatorade. In misguided efforts to stop the growing epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity, senators have chosen to focus energy on relatively harmless Gatorade instead of other, more harmful snacks.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the bill in September to set new nutritional standards for any food or beverage sold in schools outside of cafeterias. The legislation would ban the sale of Gatorade and other sports drinks from all school stores and vending machines because of high sugar and sodium contents.
The definition of "junk food" seems to be evolving, as the term once used to describe fattening candy bars, greasy chips and caffeine-packed soft drinks now refers to sports drinks and flavored water. Although the latter is relatively healthier and even considered beneficial, the ban applies only to sports drinks.
By targeting sports drinks, legislators and health advocates fail to acknowledge the role of other fatty and sweet snacks in the obesity epidemic. A 12-ounce bottle of Gatorade contains 75 calories and 165 milligrams of sodium, whereas 150 calories and 180 milligrams of sodium are found in a one-ounce bag of Lay's potato chips. Although Gatorade has less calories and salt, there are restrictions on its sale, but not chips.
MCPS allows the sale of sports drinks only in physical education hallways. There are no bans on selling high-calorie snacks more commonly associated with increased body weight. If students drinks a 20-ounce bottle of a sports drink every day for a year, they may gain up to 13 pounds, according to a 2007 report from the University of California at Berkeley. However, they can gain twice as much from eating a bag of chips. Daisy Miller, a nutrition practitioner, said that chips and candy contribute to increasing obesity in adolescents more than sport drinks. "A ban would not be necessary because Gatorade has the same nutritional values as many other snacks, and can even be useful for athletes," she said.
Unlike candy bars and cookies, sports drinks can be beneficial. Sugar and sodium help hydrate the body after physical activity, while potassium and magnesium facilitate the movement of fluid to the muscles during exercise. Studies conducted by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute have shown that athletes who drink sports drinks are less likely to dehydrate and more likely to improve performance. The Senate should use the MCPS compromise as a model for national policy, rather than placing a blanket ban on relatively harmless beverages.
Banning Gatorade from schools will not help to cure obesity. Legislators should focus on prohibiting the major sources of obesity and improving the general nutrition of cafeteria meals before worrying about the contents of vending machines. Until further action is taken to tackle school nutrition on a larger scale, an isolated ban on Gatorade will not curb the rising number of obese youths.
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