Parents Should Rethink Impact Energy, Sports Drinks Have On Kids

Water should remain top choice when hydrating minors

MASON, Ohio (July 2, 2013) – Research has shown that sports and energy drinks are heavily marketed to children, but very few kids understand the difference between the two and the impact that each can have on their health.

The findings – first released in a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) two years ago – have only gained momentum as physicians increasingly witness children and adolescents consume the drinks out of what they see as simple misunderstanding, said Michael Chunn, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician practicing in Mason.

“This is a rampant issue, especially among our adolescents,” Dr. Chunn said. “There are a lot of misconceptions when we are talking about junior and senior high students and athletes – what they know about energy and sports drinks such as the difference between them and what they expect to get from them.”

According to AAP’s study, sports drinks – which contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavoring – are intended to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. Dr. Chunn said sports drinks can be a useful tool when kids are involved in a concentrated or extensive amount of sports activity such as a day-long softball tournament or back-to-back soccer games in extreme heat. However, sports drinks should never be used as a beverage at a meal or as your primary fluid source, he added.

“I think there is a strong misconception that this is better than a soft drink or that it is supposed to be healthy for you and aid your athletic performance,” Dr. Chunn said. “While they are not as calorie dense as a soft drink, it is not the same as drinking water.”

Sports drinks generally contain a high amount of sugar. The two main ingredients in a sports drink are sucrose and glucose and can contain an average of 21 grams of sugar. Water remains the best source of hydration for kids whether for play or during sports activities. Dr. Chunn said kids who will be involved in prolonged activities that will last two hours or longer should be smart about water consumption. He recommends consuming 20 to 40 ounces both before and during the activity and following up with the same amount once the activity is over for a total of at least 60 ounces of water. Careful nutrition also will help naturally replenish the nutrients offered in a sports drink. Healthy sandwiches, granola bars and fruits can all provide the sodium, potassium and glucose often lost during prolonged activity, he said.

Sports drinks can be helpful in certain situations. Energy drinks, on the other hand, should never play a role in the diet of kids and adolescents. Energy drinks contain substances not found in sports drinks that act as stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana and taurine. According to the AAP, caffeine – the most popular stimulant – has been linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including the development of the neurologic and cardiovascular systems.

“Kids so many times lack the ability to self-regulate so if one energy drink is good then two or three have to be even better,” Dr. Chunn said. “We have seen child athletes with elevated blood pressure and heart rates due to excess caffeine intake. It is so easy because the drinks are concentrated. Although drinking too much soda may give the child lots of liquid volume and calories, it is another thing to drink a 20 ounce energy drink where each drink contains just as much caffeine as a whole pack of soda cans.”

As a result, some high schools have taken steps to prohibit the consumption of energy drinks by athletes on-campus. Dr. Chunn advises parents to do their part to educate their children of the risks of these types of drinks. Meanwhile, he encourages parents to re-evaluate the use of sports drinks in their home and consult their child’s primary care physician for guidance on whether or not it should have a place in their child’s sports activity.

View frequently asked questions about pediatric health


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