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Expert Alert

Are sports drinks fueling our young athletes or fueling the national obesity epidemic?

August 22, 2012

The consumption of sports drinks by children and adolescents is on the rise, often under a misguided belief that the products are a healthier option than sugary juices or soda.  Some schools have even swapped out soda for sports drinks in their vending machines, thinking they’re making a more nutritional choice for their students.

But 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 athletes 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? A University of Minnesota expert who can offer insight is:

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.

“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:

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.”

To schedule an interview with Story, contact Laurel Herold, (612) 624-2449,

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today’s breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit Views expressed by experts do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Tags: Academic Health Center

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