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Up for Debate: Marketing of Sports Drinks on a High School Campus

Gatorade reps recently pitch their products at Novato High, and one biology teacher took a stand against it, saying the drinks are unhealthy. The school administration took a stand as well.

If you're passionate about health and nutrition in our public schools, could you keep your mouth zipped if you knew representatives from a sports drink company would be on a high school campus handing out free samples to students? 

Michelle Stern is a biology teacher at Novato High School, and she said she "couldn't keep her trap shut," especially when she heard the Gatorade reps said they came to offer "nutrition classes" that turned into a pure marketing pitch. Stern wrote this blog post about her concerns, and the school has since taken action to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Stern's motivation? She said the California state education code is intended to protect students and to ensure that they are not offered "non-nutritious” items at school. The majority of the samples being served exceeded the legal limits on sugar, sodium and/or potassium.

"If we allow sugary beverages to be handed out on campus, it looks like we endorse the consumption of beverages that contain up to 10 spoonfuls of sugar," she wrote.

She also said there's an ethical question about allowing marketing representatives onto a school campus, especially if the product they're pitching is deemed unhealthy.

Novato High Principal Rey Mayoral said it appears this was an innocent mistake by a coach who invited the Gatorade reps on campus. He said the event was not approved by the administration and any use and/or promotion on campus would be discontinued.

"Our athletic department was trying to do something for our athletes," he said. "I honestly feel there were good intentions. Many people are not aware of the content of these products, and the promoters go to extensive lengths to convince us that their products are good for us."

Last year, Mayoral and other school district administrators successfully fought to change a city ordinance to increase the distance from school campuses that food truck vendors can sell candy and ice cream.

Miguel Villareal, head of nutritional services for the school district, commended Mayoral for acting quickly and reminds all that this is an issue for all schools. The state Legislature passed SB12 several years ago to limit junk food on school campuses, but there is one drawback.

"There is no enforcement, so schools must self-enforce and make sure that the state policy is being followed," Villareal said. "Unfortunately this does not always happen. It's a matter of educating everyone and understanding why these regulations were passed in the first place."

Enforcement could help address chronic problems such as obesity, Type II diabetes and strokes, he said.

So, another lesson learned. But how do you feel about this issue? Add a comment below. 

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Anne September 20, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Yay Michelle Stern!! Thanks for standing up, and opening your "trap" to expose the "crap"! The soft drink industry is despicable and even though my teenagers often drink soda when they go out to eat (which I can't stand) at least they know exactly what they are consuming from my years of drumming this info into their heads. Soooo glad my son is in your bio class this year!
Jeffrey Vaillant September 20, 2012 at 09:44 PM
"...an innocent mistake by a coach who invited the Gatorade reps on campus..." makes me wonder what that person was thinking....is there no training for coaches on the rules for inviting strangers onto campus?
Dave September 20, 2012 at 10:23 PM
I would recommend Gatorade on campus when the students each run 10 miles a day and it hot out.
Dave September 20, 2012 at 10:25 PM
I would recommend Gatorade on campus when the students each run 10 miles a day and it's hot out.
Patricia Warren October 06, 2012 at 02:55 AM
It seems that the coach needs some training in nutrition andawareness about the deceptive advertising that is prevalent today. patricia Warren

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