July 26, 2007 |
CONTACT: Jeannette Warnert, (559) 646-6074, firstname.lastname@example.org |
UC Berkeley researchers urge children to drink water
As summer simmers to a close, University of California, Berkeley, nutrition experts suggest parents send their children back to school with a message: When buying beverages at campus vending machines and snack bars, pass the sports drinks and select water.
“Water is simply the best drink for children,” said Patricia Crawford, UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist and co-director of the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health. Crawford and center researcher, UC San Francisco pediatrician Kristine Madsen wrote a fact sheet to answer parents’ frequently asked questions about sports drinks.
Even though new laws in California have gone into effect restricting the highly sweetened beverage options that schools may sell to children, less nutritious choices will still be available. Parents, teachers and coaches must teach children to make healthy decisions for quenching their thirst, Crawford said.
For elementary and intermediate students, soda is no longer available at school. High school students may still buy sweetened carbonated drinks on campus for the next two years. But in 2009, all beverages in California school vending machines, student stores, snack bars and cafeterias will be water without sweeteners, fruit and vegetable juices, milk and sports drinks.
These new restrictions make it easier for students to select healthful beverages, but there are pitfalls.
“Nearly all fruit juices provide sugar that children don’t need,” Crawford said. “Sports drinks have fewer calories than sodas, but the calories add up. A student who drinks an extra 20-ounce sports drink every day for a year consumes enough calories to gain 13 pounds over the course of the year.”
However, sports drinks appeal to kids. They come in an array of flavors and colors. Beverage giants have enlisted popular athletes to endorse the products. For example, in ads, basketball great LeBron James, scowls with attitude over the tag line, “POWERade helps keep the pros in the game.” NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson is featured in a Gatorade ad that says, “Jimmie refuels with Frost Glacier Freeze.”
“The drinks were intended for people who exercise continuously for long periods of time,” Crawford said. “There is no such situation in the school setting.”
Nevertheless, beverage companies are marketing sports drinks to students, attempting to link athletes’ performance and energy to the consumption of electrolyte-replacement beverages to quench everyday thirst.
Four years ago, Crawford and her staff received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effect of removing highly sweetened drinks from high school campuses. Two schools volunteered to remove highly sweetened beverages, including soda, for a two-year study period.
“We expected students to replace their highly sweetened beverages with fruit juice, milk, and water. But we learned that sports drinks were the beverage of choice,” Crawford said. “At the end of the two-year study, when we went to measure students’ change in body weight, there were no significant differences between schools that still had sugary sodas and those that did not. The differences in school beverage selection did not produce as dramatic a change in sugar consumption as anticipated.”
California’s new school beverage nutrition laws permit the on-campus sale of “electrolyte-replacement beverages that contain no more than 42 grams of added sweetener per 20-ounce serving.” Crawford and Madsen are concerned that this provision will compromise the potential dietary improvements from the new law. In response, Madsen pored over scientific literature to synthesize the most up-to-date and authoritative information on sports drinks. All the research pointed to the same conclusion: Children don’t need them.
“Research shows that even when children exercise vigorously – running nonstop for an entire hour – water is just as good at adding back the fluids they need while keeping their electrolytes in balance,” Crawford said.
The Center for Weight and Health developed a plain-language, four-page handout for parents, teachers, administrators and coaches that summarizes the scientific facts in question-and-answer format. For example, many parents can identify with the question that says, “My kids don’t like water and hate drinking out of the water fountains at school. How do I get them to drink water?”
“If students are thirsty and water is readily available, they will drink water,” the handout explains. “There are special organs in the body that sense when fluid is low and stimulate thirst centers in the brain to make us drink. During almost all activities, children will drink enough water to meet the body’s needs.”
Even a question about offering sports drinks “once in a while” gets a scientifically based “no.”
“Sports drinks are not okay even once or twice a week at practice or games – it’s recommended that children do not drink any sports drinks or other sweetened beverages on a regular basis,” the answer says in part.
The only time the paper suggests that sports drinks have a place in a child’s diet is during a competitive sport with intense activity that lasts more than an hour.
“But during the school day and at most sports practices, water is the best drink for children,” the fact sheet concludes.
The complete FAQ is available on the UC Berkeley Center for Weight and Health Web site at http://cnr.berkeley.edu/cwh/PDFs/CWH_Sports_Drinks_FAQ_Sheet_7.07.pdf