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High-Sugar Sports Drink Sales up 35% as School Starts

in BLOGS/USA by

Despite the health risks, parents are stockpiling gatorade and similar ‘sports’ drinks as kids head back to school and back on the field.

Despite the American Academy of Paediatrics and many other reputable organisations, including the Connecticut state government, attempting to limit consumption of the sugary beverages, sports drinks experienced a 35 percent spike in sales over the course of five weeks leading up to school starting thus year. The numbers come courtesy of a recent Nielsen insights report in which parents appear to be apathetic towards increased dental costs and obesity rates.

“Given the current epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity, we recommend the elimination of calorie-containing beverages from a well-balanced diet,” reads the official AAP stance on sports drinks, which carries a notable caveat: Low-fat or fat-free milk, given its Calcium & Vitamin D content. 

Though some research indicates that certain young athletes may benefit from the combination of carbohydrates, protein, or electrolytes sports drinks offer, those studies are greatly outnumbered by studies accentuating the opposite. For most kids engaged in routine physical activities, doing an impression of that awesome Gatorade sweat ad merely translates into empty calories and extra trips to the dentist. Still, all that slurping is understandable if you look at the market; given that most schools have phased out selling sodas, beverage manufacturers have been pushing sports drinks, which have become the third-fastest growing beverage category in the U.S. after bottled water and energy drinks since 2006.

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Since that time, some school districts have fought policy battles over sports drinks. Connecticut banned them from schools along with soda in 2006 and the The U.S. Agriculture Department launched an initiative to get Gatorade and drinks like it out of schools in 2013. But all that legislative effort is largely pointless if parents are going to send kids with sports drinks in their back packs anyways.

Still, the Nielsen data wasn’t all bad news and shows that parents are at least paying more attention to labels. They found that consumers spend 37 percent more on sports drinks that are free of artificial sweeteners and 19 percent more on drinks free of sugar in the same five-week back to school period. The absence of artificial colours and the presence of antioxidant properties also boosted sales 25 and 29 percent, respectively. And the most popular item of all were apples with $243.5 million in sales.

To Burn Off A Soda, You’ll Have To Run 50 Minutes

in BLOGS/RECOVERY by

As a society, we don’t pay much attention to nutrition information when we eat out.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report estimates just 8 percent of Americans use nutritional information when deciding what to order.

So, what might make us pay attention? Well, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have a theory.

Calories are listed next to menu items in a Starbucks coffee shop in 2008 in New York City. Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Instead of just listing calories, why not also include how many miles of walking or minutes of running it would take to burn off the calories you order. This could help people put the calorie counts in context.

“People don’t really understand what it means to say a typical soda has 250 calories,” says Sara Bleich, an associate professor in the department of health Policy and management at Johns Hopkins.

“So, if we’re going to put this information in restaurants,” Bleich says, listing the miles of walking it would take to work it off “may be the more persuasive way.”

Bleich and her team were interested to know how low-income tweens and teenagers would respond to this kind of messaging. So she and her colleagues posted calorie and “miles to walk” signs in corner stores in predominantly black neighborhoods in Baltimore.

Since sodas are a common purchase among teens, the signs focused on beverages, pointing out that a typical 20-ounce soda has 250 calories, which would take 5 miles of walking — or 50 minutes of running — for a 110-pound adolescent to burn off. (It would take a little less time for an adult with a higher body weight to use up the energy in one of those sodas.)

“We sat in these stores for hours and watched what kids were doing,” Bleich says. And her team documented that among the roughly 35 percent of teens who noticed the signs, the calorie and walking information shaped their choices.

One of the posters used in the study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Sara Bleich/Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Before the miles-of-walking signs went up, the teens were purchasing about 203 calories’ worth of sugary drinks. After the signs were installed, the number of sugary drink calories purchased dropped to 179. So not a huge drop, but a significant change.

Kids also started buying smaller-size drinks. Before the signs went up, more than half of teens were buying 16-ounce or larger servings. After the signs were installed, the purchases of large-size beverages dropped to 37 percent. The findings are published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Bleich says when she started the research project, she drove through the Baltimore neighborhoods where the study was to be carried out. These neighborhoods are “low-income, heavy drug use,” Bleich says. “[There are] all sorts of social disadvantages.” And she recalls thinking, “Who the heck is going to care how many calories are in the sodas that they’re drinking?”

But, now that she’s documented that the signs do make a difference, she says she’s very encouraged.

“So to me, the message is: Among a population for whom health is probably not a primary concern, we’re [seeing] a significant effect,” Bleich says.

And, she says, her hunch is that if she carried out the same study among higher-income populations, “I think the effects would be even bigger.”

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