At the last Heber Springs School Board meeting, the Smart Snack Diet, a federally mandated nutrition program regulated by the USDA for public schools, was discussed. To determine whether a snack, food or drink was compliant with federal standards, Pam Tamburo, Director of Nutrition, is instructing educators to access the USDA Smart Snack Calculator (https://foodplanner.healthiergeneration.org/calculator/), print out the compliance results and drop them in a box in her office prior to the teacher or coach providing a snack or drink to students.

As confirmed by a former coach in the Heber Springs football program, Caleb Shock, athletes are being sold the Gatorade Protein Recovery Shake or snack bar for a dollar after workouts. Both products were run through the Smart Snack Calculator to determine if these products were compliant with federal standards. Neither product was compliant.

Brad Reese, Athletic Director and Vice Principal at Heber Springs High School, explained to a DHS investigator on April 28th that, “Coaches have been selling workout supplements, and we were not aware that this kid’s mother did not want him to have them.”

The DHS investigator stated in his report, “It would appear that the school is providing work out supplements without consent of the children’s parents based on these statements.”

According to Holly Meyer, Prosecuting Attorney, “The school cannot legally give out Tylenol, caffeine, or even cough drops without a waiver. The school is aware that the coaches are providing the supplements and Athletic Director, Brad Reese, knows about it.”

In the same DHS report, Dusty Combs, a coach in the Heber Springs High School football program, admitted to the investigator that he had provided the BCAA Energy powder to a 15-year-old student in the program. Combs stated that he didn’t get permission from the student’s parents saying, “It was mostly natural. I did not realize it even had caffeine in it.”

Combs stated that he told the student to follow the instructions on the container even though the container clearly states that, “This product is only intended for use by healthy adults over the age of 18.” The label also clearly states that the product contains caffeine.

Combs explained that he had purchased the BCAA Energy powder for himself and that when he had given the product to the student it wasn’t a full container. He admitted to telling the student that he didn’t like the product, but suggested that the student try it to see how it worked for him. The student admitted to the investigator that he didn’t start having issues with his kidneys and bladder until he started taking the product and that when he had stopped taking the product, he had problems sleeping.

The FDA requires that the label explicitly state all ingredients contained in a product and a disclaimer stating that the claims made by the manufacturer as to the effectiveness of the product “have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

Neither Gatorade product is designated as being a registered, certified product by a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) symbol, which “certifies that what is on the label is in the product and that the product does not contain unsafe levels of contaminants, prohibited substances and masking agents.”   Nor does neither product display the cGMP symbol, which are standards for “current Good Manufacturing Practices” established by FDA guidelines published in 2007.

The cGMP symbol only assures the consumer that the product has been manufactured to FDA guidelines for purity, strength, identity and quality of ingredients. The NSF symbol goes further than the FDA guidelines to assure athletes that the product contains no banned substances that would cause them to test positive for a banned substance.

The BCAA Energy powder provided to the student has neither symbol as well, though it does have the standard FDA disclaimer on the label.

The Smart Snack Diet doesn’t ban dietary supplements from being distributed on school campuses. “We are not aware of any state restrictions regarding dietary supplements. Per our Child Nutrition Unit, there are nutrition standards for food and beverages, including caffeine restrictions, but most dietary supplements are considered non-food products and would not be subject to these standards,” states Kimberly Friedman, Director of Communications for Arkansas Department of Education (ADE).

The FDA identifies dietary supplements as food items, but the Child Nutrition Unit at ADE does not.

“Many districts however, have policies governing “over-the-counter medications or perceived health remedies not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration” that usually apply to dietary supplements,” Friedman further advised.

The Heber Springs School District has such a policy. It’s also included in the Student Handbook that students and parents are provided at the beginning of each school year. The policy can be found on page 54 of the Student Handbook and states, “Unless authorized to self-administer, students are not allowed to carry any medications including over-the-counter medications or any perceived health remedy not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration while at school.”

The Heber Springs School District administrators and high school coaches are not adhering to the stated school district policy that bans over-the-counter substances, such as protein supplements, pre-workout or post-workout protein bars, and the BCAA Energy product, from Heber Springs school campuses. None of these products are compliant with the Smart Snack Diet, a newly implemented policy within the district.

Increasingly, consumers are finding out how ineffective dietary supplements may be and that many of the health benefits that are claimed by the manufacturer are false. Worse, dietary supplements may be detrimental to health due to being contaminated with hidden drugs and chemicals. Dietary supplement retailers and distributors are subject to FDA criminal charges if their products are “tainted”.

In 2015, the New York Times reported that the New York Attorney General had issued cease-and-desist letters to GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart demanding that they stop selling their herbal supplements. Eighty percent of the supplements tested were found not to contain any of the ingredients listed on the label. Walmart was the worst offender in that of the six herbal supplements tested, none were found to contain any of the ingredient listed.

Then there are those supplements that contain harmful substances. In 2013 Purity First was warned by the FDA that their B vitamin may contain banned anabolic steroids after the reporting of 30 adverse events. In 2011, Tamoxifen, a drug used to treat and prevent specific forms of breast cancer, was found to be contained in the supplement, Esto Suppress. The University of Florida tested 22 calcium supplements and found that 36% of them contained lead. Lead consumed on a regular basis leads to anemia, high blood pressure, and brain and kidney failure.

A recent trip to the local WalMart found numerous sports nutrition products from protein powders to Super Advanced Creatine to Testosterone Booster to energy drinks. These products are easily accessible to teens. When asked how the product could be sold to an underaged consumer, the WalMart employee stated that when the product is rung up at the register, the clerk is prompted to ask for consumer age information. Several products were tested at the register. The only product that prompted for age identification was the weight loss product, Zantrex.

The sports nutrition manufacturers’ label is getting around the age appropriateness of a product by stating, “Warning: Not intended for use by persons under 18.” It doesn’t say not to be sold or used by persons under 18, which triggers the identification requirement.

There are over 55,000 dietary supplements on the market today making it impossible to enforce FDA labeling and claims regulations. The NCAA, NFL and MLB athletic associations strongly advise their players not to use dietary supplements because the products aren’t regulated by the government and could be contaminated. If consumers have an adverse reaction, they should report it immediately through MedWatch, the FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program (https://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/default.htm).

Athletes do need extra protein, but not at the levels that are advertised. Young athletes need about 0.5-0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Anything over this is stored in the body as fat or flushed down the toilet. Protein can be gotten from natural foods such as one cup of cottage cheese; one cup of Greek yogurt plus a handful of nuts; a palm sized portion of steak, fish or poultry; and, three whole eggs plus three egg whites. Studies have shown that muscles are sensitive to protein synthesis building for a least 24-48 hours after exercise, meaning protein can be consumed at the next regular meal after exercise.

Performance enhancing substance education is as important as other substance abuse education. The Taylor Hooton Foundation (http://www.taylorhooten.org), founded by Don Hooten after the suicide of his 17-year-old son due to withdrawal from anabolic steroids, offers educational programs, Chalk Talks, at high schools, universities and other venues throughout the US, Canada and Latin America for students, parents, educators, and coaches concerning the issues resulting from the use of PEDS (performance enhancing drugs and supplements). The programs are “research-based and have been developed in conjunction with the medical community, athletic trainers, university experts, as well as young people.” Their research has shown that 85% of high school students have never had an adult talk about PEDS with a parent, a coach or an educator.

Drinking massive quantities of energy drinks have resulted in cardiac arrest in healthy kids. Kids are also mixing energy drinks with alcohol believing they will achieve a bigger buzz or once drunk they believe an energy drink will sober them up enough to drive home. Both beliefs are hyped by energy drink marketers. Both are deadly false.

Education is the first step in protecting kids’ health from PEDS. School districts across Arkansas and in other states have implemented very restrictive and no excuse policies around the PEDS issue. Half the states in the US have passed some form of legislation banning PEDS in public schools and either allowing or mandating random testing for PEDS among high school athletes. The Heber Springs School District has a policy to deal with non-FDA regulated substances on district school campuses that’s not being enforced. Currently, the state of Arkansas has no laws banning the use of PEDS in the public schools, mandating or allowing random testing, or mandating education for young athletes, coaches and educators.