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Parents Respond to Back to School Season by Hoarding Gatorade

Stockpiling Gatorade might be good for Costco, but it's bad for kids.

Parents seem to be, for reasons that are both very clear and very murky, stockpiling gatorade and similar sports drinks as kids go back to school and get back on the field. Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other reputable organizations, including the Connecticut state govnerment, attempting to limit consumption of the sugary beverages, sports drinks experienced a 35 percent spike in sales over the course of five weeks leading up to school starting. The numbers come courtesy of a Nielsen insights report and parents laughing in the face of dentistry costs and obesity rates.

“Given the current epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity, we recommend the elimination of calorie-containing beverages from a well-balanced diet,” reads the official AAP stance on sports drinks, which carves out what flavorful exception: Low-fat or fat-free milk, because it contains calcium and vitamin D.

Though some research indicates that young athletes may benefit from the combination of carbohydrates, protein, or electrolytes sports drinks offer, those studies are greatly outnumbered by studies indicating the opposite. For most kids engaged in routine physical activities, doing an impression of that awesome Gatorade sweat ad merely translates into empty calories and extra trips to the dentist. Still, all that slurping is understandable if you look at the market. Since most schools have phased out sodas from their cafeterias and hallways, beverage manufacturers have been pushing sports drinks, which have become the third-fastest growing beverage category in the U.S. after bottled water (good for you, bad for the environment) and energy drinks (just generally pretty crap) in 2006.

Since that time, some school districts have fought policy battles over sports drinks. Connecticut banned them from schools along with soda in 2006 and the The U.S. Agriculture Department launched an initiative to get Gatorade and drinks like it out of schools in 2013. But all that legislative effort is largely pointless if parents are going to send kids with sports drinks in their back packs anyways.

Still, the Nielsen data wasn’t all bad news and shows that parents are at least paying more attention to labels. They found that consumers spend 37 percent more on sports drinks that are free of artificial sweeteners and 19 percent more on drinks free of sugar in the same five-week back to school period. The absence of artificial colors and the presence of antioxidant properties also boosted sales 25 and 29 percent, respectively. And the most popular item of all were apples with $243.5 million in sales.

So there’s that.