McKayla Barton relies on sports drinks on a daily basis.
“The day I don’t get my Powerade, I don’t run as fast,” said Barton, 15. On Tuesday a blue Powerade replaced her lunch. She says it gives her an energy boost to make it through the day at Tokay High School without crashing.
But if a new assembly bill moves forward, Barton will have to look for a new source of energy. Assembly member Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, introduced legislation last week to ban the sale of sugary sports drinks at middle and high school campuses during school hours.
The bill would amend existing laws that ban the sale of sodas in schools to include electrolyte replacement drinks, limiting the sales to 30 minutes before and after the school day.
Permitted beverages will include milk, water, fruit and vegetable drinks with no added sugar and “diet” varieties of sports drinks with less than 42 grams of sugar per 20-ounce bottle.
George Khoury, president of the San Joaquin Medical Society, was skeptical of any measure to increase government regulation. But this one makes sense, he said.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a well-educated and health-oriented population, especially in this county,” he said. “The six to seven hours at school is the only place where we can control what kids are putting in their digestive systems. If we want to do something for our health care costs in 20 to 25 years, we have to start now with those kids.”
San Joaquin County has higher rates of diabetes and heart disease than the state at 8 and 9 percent, respectively.
Sports drinks are designed to replace nutrients lost by an athlete after an intense workout. But 90 percent of kids don’t work out hard enough to need those nutrients in drink form, said Khoury.
Warren Sun, director of food services for Lodi Unified School District, prefers educating students on healthy habits over regulating their choices. But he admits the situation has reached a point where rules might help.
“Sometimes you need increased regulations to get past the crisis,” said Sun.
Currently, all Lodi Unified high schools and middle schools sell Powerade, though middle schools do not have vending machines. Students can purchase 20-ounce drinks for $1.50 from food services during lunchtime or from vending machines. Water and other drinks cost $1.
The district’s profit from corporate drink sales amounts to less than 10 percent of the purchase price, said Sun.
Liberty Ranch High School principal Brian Deis said sports drinks are currently sold on the Galt campus in both the cafeteria and in vending machines.
Alejandro Llamas, who attends Tokay High School, chugs one or two sports drinks a day during cross country or football practice. Instead of a ban, he’d like to see more offerings like coffee and soda in high schools.
“It’s not the school’s responsibility to stop what we eat or drink. Why affect everyone when it’s only a problem for some people?” asked Llamas, 15.
Schools are already limited in what they can serve and Llamas doesn’t want his choices restricted further. Llamas eats tons of junk food, but he’s still skinny, he said.
Other students agree and are already committed to the brand name drinks.
“The sports drinks are good. I like the flavor,” said Jose Ortiz, 14. He prefers a Mountain Berry Blast Powerade over a flavorless bottle of water. If they were banned, Ortiz might bring one from home and keep it chilled in a teacher’s fridge. If the bill passes, the new rules go into effect on July 1, 2013. At that point, students might have to find something else to quench their thirst.
Health officials aren’t sympathetic.
“Tap water in this country is pretty good. Drink that,” said Khoury.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.