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Sugary sports drinks: Soon leaving a school near you?

June 16, 2010 |  6:13 pm

Gatorade Sugar-sweetened drinks may soon be harder to find in California schools.

Though sugary sodas have been banned for some time in the state's public schools, in middle and high schools, sugar-sweetened sports drinks are allowed. SB1255, already passed by the State Senate and today passed by the Assembly's Education Committee, would ban sale of sugar-sweetened sports drinks during school hours too.

"According to the California Department of Public Health, electrolyte replacement beverages are overwhelmingly replacing sodas as the beverage of choice for school-age children," notes a press release from the office of Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), who crafted the Senate bill. Seems the kids didn't turn to water and milk when the sodas went away. In what looks like a good example of unintended consequences, these days "eight of the top 10 beverages sold a la carte in California public high schools are electrolyte replacement beverages," the release goes on to say.

It's funny the way some drinks are anointed with halos of goodness while others are blasted as concoctions of the Antichrist.

A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola (to pick just one sugary soft drink) contains 140 calories. A 20-ounce bottle contains 240.

The 20-ounce sugar-sweetened fruit punch Gatorade I just bought down at the cafeteria contains 130 calories. Volume-to-volume, it's significantly fewer calories than the soda -- the bottle contains 110 fewer calories than the 20-ounce Coke and about the same as the 12-ounce Coke. I don't know if one actually drinks these two kinds of drinks in comparable volumes.

But are any of those extra calories needed? And yes, the sports drinks contain electrolytes, but it's hard to imagine these are in urgent need of replenishment if you go by these CDC 2008 stats on Los Angeles kids:

In L.A., the fact sheet notes, just 21% of high schools taught a required PE course in all grades in the school, and 39% of the kids there didn't attend one PE class during an average week in school.

There are 270 milligrams of sodium in my Gatorade -- thank heavens, because I was beginning to look anxiously around for a salt lick before my nerves stopped firing -- compared with 75 milligrams in the 20-ounce Coke. The Coke isn't as pretty a color, though.

 When it comes to vigorous after-school sports, sports drinks may be useful, as noted in this New York Times column last year. The column cites a study that found the drinks' brilliant hues and sweet flavors seem to coax kids to drink sufficient fluids when really working up a sweat -- and that some sports physiologists think they could be useful when kids are working hard for "numerous hours."

But the article also says:

"No one suggests that, outside of fields or courts, sports drinks are wise. 'These are not health foods,' [Boston registered dietician Nancy] Clark says. 'They’re fancy sugar water. You see kids having them with their pizza at lunch. That’s not a good idea.' ”

SB1255, sponsored by Gov. Schwarzenegger, next goes to the Assembly Health Committee.

-- Rosie Mestel

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Photo Credit: Ramin Talaie // Bloomberg News

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