Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Medical Skepticism, Camp Edition

GlassHospital has trekked up to the White Mountains in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state of New Hampshire, where the air is pure and the wifi is spotty. We’re working as camp doctors, tending to the sprains and bruises of an energetic group of youngsters and staff who amaze us with their talents and good will.

One popular brand deserves another; silhouette of the pitchman in question.

No better setting than to explore a recent perfect storm of media coverage over sports drinks.


Are they controversial?

Mom always told me after a long summer day of playing outside to replenish my electrolytes with Gatorade, or some such concoction. Didn’t yours? [Actually, it wasn’t my Mom. I think it was those TV commercials featuring Michael Jordan. I want to be like Mike, at least on the b-ball court…]

And therein lies the problem.

As with all products that have medical claims, it pays to examine the evidence above the advertising claims. If we are brand loyal, we want to believe Mike. We want to believe that stuff is good for us. We want to be like Mike, after all.

Must be because of the upcoming London Olympics, but one scientific article (thank you, British Medical Journal) led to lots of UK media coverage, followed by a piece in the Atlantic and a post on NPR’s “The Salt” blog. I’ll list & link them here:

If you’re really wonky about this stuff, here’s a link to a video (spoiler alert: super boring 9 minutes of white people sitting around a table talking in low voices) in which the BMJ editors discuss their hassles amassing enough evidence about this issue to crank out a meaningful paper. Turns out a lot of the info on these drinks is “proprietary,” held in confidence by the manufacturers of the drinks.

Remind anyone of, say, Tobacco?

Read the links, form your own opinion, and comment below.


  1. Kate

    Great post. Having just come from sleep-away camp “Up North” in Michigan, I have the same bad Gatorade taste in my mouth. Seems the well-intentioned parents of my kids’ fellow campers feared their darlings would starve to death over the week and dropped them off with ridiculous supplies of sugary sports drinks and high-calorie snacks. I recognize that food is love — I feel that way after a home-cooked meal shared with my favorite people — but when did a duffel bag stuffed with Cheez-Its, gummy bears, and Pringles become the national symbol of parental devotion?

    Why are we doing this to our kids? While they would like to think they’re performing like top-level athletes, most kids running around at camp, kicking a soccer ball, or tearing through the yard playing hide-and-seek are not in danger of electrolyte imbalance from their exertion. Shouldn’t water suffice?

    I dropped off my poor, snackless offspring convinced that there’s no end in sight to childhood obesity in the U.S. The deeply American approach to living — acquiring the biggest, bulkiest items available (whether it be SUV, McMansion, or Slurpee) — is dooming our youngest members to lives of unhealthy habits. But unlike tobacco use, which took years to document the medical effects, the price paid for consuming sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks is clearly known. It’s common sense.

    I’m still shaking my head over what seems more and more to be the American way: A week of children getting physical activity in the sun, unplugged from screens, and served three healthy meals, is negated by nightly feasts on Oreo-Brownies and calorie-rich sports drinks. Snacks parents, not the camp, give the kids themselves! Substitute camp for a T-ball game, and watch as the parents bring more calories in post-game treats for the team than the kids could possibly have burned. What a shame.

    The Atlantic has it right when it says that sport drinks’ “. . . association with hydration and athletics means they’re not thought of as being unhealthy in the way that other sugary drinks, like soda, are.”

    We’re raising Generation Chub, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

    • glasshospital

      I see a great book opportunity here for the camp director that loves fitness and has found a way to control the snacking. Up at this camp the snacks are REAL fruit. Imagine that! Though there is an occasional treat, probably enough to keep fetishizing them. Thanks for the comment. -JS

  2. Debbie

    I also was perplexed at parents’ need to shower their kids with sugar on visiting day. The camp requested that parents bring a one-serving size snack for the child to eat that day, noting that they avoid food in the cabins to reduce bug incidence and food status wars (yes, you read that right). Still, parents explained that their tradition was to go nuts at the candy store filling bag after bag so their kid would feel loved (and maybe cool).

    I also saw tubs of KFC even though the camp served lunch (with three different desserts)!

    Why are we telling our kids that we want them to gorge on junk and that rules need not be followed in these situations?

    • glasshospital

      Yes, the rules only seem to apply to everyone else. I think it’s a generational challenge that OUR generation faces as parents. We SO want the best for our kids, that we always want to make them feel loved and special. The problem, as you and Kate have pointed out, is that junk food is a junky way to express our love. And making such a big deal over contraband contributes to its fetish-ization. Thanks for commenting. -JS

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