Commentary

Pediatricians Flag Energy, Sports Drinks For Youth

There's a new message today for teens and their parents regarding what they imbibe: Just say no to energy drinks, and yes to sports drinks only when necessary after intense workouts. Given that most children and adolescents don't work out intensely, "most kids shouldn't drink either of them, ever," concludes Jennifer LaRue Huget in the Washington Post's "The Checkup" blog.

The source of the assertion is a widely covered study published this morning by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and its Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness in the journal Pediatrics.

"Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don't need," says the study's co-author, Holly J. Benjamin.

Obesity in children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 rose in the U.S. to almost 17% in 2007-08 from 5% in 1971-74, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited by Bloomberg's Jeran Wittenstein. 

advertisement

advertisement

In a story whose headline puts a positive spin on the findings for another thirst quencher of note -- "Kids Urged To Give Water A Sporting Chance" -- Australia's ABC Science points out that the study makes a distinction between sports and energy drinks. (Low-fat or fat-free milk, which contains calcium and vitamin D, is also acceptable.)

Dr. Marci Schneider, a member of the AAP nutrition committee and lead author of the report, says that energy drinks should never be consumed by this age group because of the potential health risks, Branwen Morgan writes, while sports drinks have a role when athletes need more than just water to replenish their fluids.

"[Sports drinks] are flavored waters that, in most cases, contain carbohydrates and, certainly, for our country where obesity is such an issue, why promote something that has calories that the majority of kids don't need?" says Schneider. "The other big problem is that these drinks are acidic and cause dental erosion."

Beverage manufacturers say that sports drinks' share in schools increased 5% between 2004 and 2006-07, Time reports. Consumption took place mostly in the lunchroom, not the athletic fields, where they might provide a carbohydrate and electrolyte boost to bodies that are presumably depleted after vigorous workouts.

"The question was, are there appropriate times when kids should be drinking these, and times when they shouldn't be drinking them?" Schneider, who is an adolescent medicine physician in Greenwich, Conn., tells Time's Alice Park. When the final buzzer buzzes, most teens are not engaged in the grueling activities that require sports drinks, and water is the most appropriate beverage for them.

Energy drinks can have more than 500 milligrams of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda, Schneider says. "Some kids are drinking energy drinks -- containing large amounts of caffeine -- when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise," she points out. "This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous."

"Sports drinks have a long history of scientific research showing their benefits for hydration," Maureen Storey, svp of science policy for the ABA, emails Bloomberg's Wittenstein. "As with all food and beverages, they should be consumed in moderation." Energy drinks "are not intended for young consumers," Storey adds. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola declined comment.

Meanwhile, Ad Age sets out to clear the air on "In the High Fructose "Corn Syrup vs. Sugar Squabble" by breaking down the claims made by each side and rendering verdicts.

"One of the biggest food fights of the year heated up again last week when five more sugar companies signed on to a lawsuit that seeks to stop the corn industry from marketing high-fructose corn syrup as a natural sugar, or "corn sugar," writes E.J. Schultz.

If consumers conclude anything other than that too much of either is not good for them, they're missing the point of the science, if not the marketing.

Next story loading loading..