Sports and Energy Drinks Too Popular with Teens

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Sports drink and energy drink consumption associated with other unhealthy behaviors

May 5, 2014 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Teens are known to love soda, but they may be consuming other sugar-filled beverages these days, and ones that should also be avoided.

A new study found that more than a third of teens reported drinking sports drinks at least once a week, and that behavior may be linked to other unhealthy lifestyle choices.

The researchers found a link between drinking sports and energy drinks and smoking, drinking other sugary beverages and more time spent playing video games and watching television.

This study also linked sports drink consumption to more physical activity. However, the researchers noted that teens are recommended to drink sports drinks only after prolonged and vigorous physical activity. Furthermore, teens are recommended to avoid energy drinks altogether.

"Encourage your teen to choose healthy drinks."

This research was led by Nicole Larson, PhD, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Dr. Larson and colleagues looked at data from the Eating and Activity in Teens (EAT 2010) study, which included 2,793 adolescents who completed surveys and had anthropometric measures (testing for body fat composition) during the 2009-2010 school year. These students were all from public middle and high schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The average age of the students was 14.4 years.

These students answered 235 items on a questionnaire. All of the students were asked questions about lifestyle factors, such as how often they ate breakfast, what they liked to drink and how often, their level of physical activity and their sleeping patterns.

Overall, sports drinks, such as Gatorade, were consumed at least once a week by 37.9 percent of the students. Energy drinks, such as Red Bull, were consumed once a week by 14.7 percent of students.

Boys were more likely than girls to regularly drink sports drinks (44.9 percent versus 31.6 percent). Boys were also more likely than girls to drink energy drinks (17.1 percent versus 12.5 percent).

Consumption of either drink type was associated with more unhealthy behaviors. For example, boys who regularly consumed sports drinks spent about one additional hour per week watching TV, compared with boys who consumed sports drinks less than once per week. Furthermore, boys who regularly consumed energy drinks spent approximately four additional hours playing video games compared to those who consumed energy drinks less than once per week.

The researchers noted that youth who drank more energy drinks also did more physical activity. Boys who reported drinking one or more sports drinks per week were also more likely to report working out for about two more hours every week compared to boys who did not consume that many sports drinks.

But these drinks are not necessary nor healthy for the average young person, the authors of this study wrote. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that sports drinks should only be consumed by adolescents after vigorous, lengthy activity, and energy drinks are not recommended because they offer no benefit and increase risks for overstimulation of the nervous system, as most of energy drinks contain caffeine and high amounts of sugar and calories.

The researchers reported that another study found that exposure to TV advertisements for energy drinks increased 23 percent among children and 20 percent among adolescents from 2008 to 2010. “Based on the results of this media exposure research and the current study, there is a need for advocacy efforts to limit advertising,” the authors wrote.

James Crowell, head trainer at Integrated Fitness in Pittsburgh, told dailyRx News that he believes far too many kids are drinking energy and sports drinks too often. “In my opinion, the only time a kid would need one of the two would be a sports drink if they were working very hard in an athletic or a work situation that saw them sweating profusely for an extended period of time. Otherwise, I believe that they are full of useless sugars or chemical sweeteners," Crowell said.

“Many kids see adults drinking energy drinks and think that it is what their bodies need to be 'on.' What they don't realize is that they can easily build a dependence on the caffeine and they can end up feeling an energy 'yo-yo' effect where they feel awake and stimulated for a short time but then they crash. Over time that cycle can lead to more consumption of the drinks to try to stay stimulated longer," he said.

Crowell told dailyRx that he warns young athletes of the negative effects of drinking energy and sports drinks. “I always tell the kids that I train to try to base their hydration on water, and I explain to them that the downside risk of those drinks far outweighs the immediate upside. They don't always buy into it right away, but when I can show them specific instances in their own life of that 'crash,' it really helps to drill the point home," he said.

This study by Dr. Larson and team appears in the May/June edition of The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. The research was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.