Sports and energy drinks unhealthy for kids and teens, Canadian pediatricians say

Most children and teens shouldn’t consume sports and energy drinks, and the products should no longer be marketed to them, the Canadian Paediatric Society says.

In a new position statement released Tuesday, the society said sports drinks are high in sugar, which contributes to the obesity epidemic as well as dental cavities.

Caffeinated energy drinks are claimed to reduce fatigue and improve concentration, but the stimulant caffeine may affect children and teens more than adults, given their smaller size and weight.

Sports drinks contain a mixture of sugars and electrolytes. The beverages are often marketed as fluid replacements appropriate for sports or vigorous physical activity.

“The vast majority of children should really just hydrate with water. It’s the best thing for them,” said Dr. Catherine Pound, a pediatrician and researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and a co-author of the statement.

Pound said consuming a lot of energy drinks with caffeine in a short period of time can cause serious side-effects, especially in those with underlying health conditions, such as children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Potential adverse effects of caffeine include anxiety, interference with sleep, heart rhythm abnormalities and in rare cases even death, as well as irritability, vomiting and diarrhea, Pound said. 

The society said pediatricians should:

  • Ask children and teens about their sports and energy drink consumption, and whether they mix alcohol with caffeinated energy drinks.
  • Educate the public about the potential health risks posed by caffeinated energy drinks.

The society also advocated for expanding legislation to prevent marketing of energy drinks to children and adolescents.

“Kids are seeing their heroes, these wonderful athletes who are taking sports drinks or in certain cases also energy drinks, [and] they want to be like them,” Pound said.

“It really is the level and intensity of the exercise or the duration. An athlete like Sidney Crosby may actually need those sports drinks, but your average child or your average youth doesn’t.”

When researchers at the University of Ottawa looked at the top 10 digital sites for children and youth, they found 90 per cent of ads were for unhealthy drinks or foods laden with salt, sugar and fat, said Lesley James, senior manager of health policy for Heart & Stroke, which commissioned the report.

James said sugar consumption is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke, and sugary drinks are the main source of excess sugar and calories in the North American diet.

The Canadian Beverage Association and some members of the food industry in Canada have pledged to “devote 100 per cent of their television, radio, print and internet advertising directed primarily to children under 12 years of age to promote products that represent healthy dietary choices, or not direct advertising primarily to children under 12.”

“They’re saying on paper we’re not marketing to children and youth under the age of 12, but in actuality, we’re seeing that’s vastly different,” James said.

Heart & Stroke’s assessment suggested that of the ads children see online, three-quarters came from companies that signed the voluntary initiative, James said.

The Canadian Beverage Association has previously said taxing a segment of consumers’ consumption won’t reduce obesity

In 2009, the sports drink market in Canada was valued at $ 423 million. In the U.S., energy drink consumption and sales have increased, reaching $ 3.2 billion US in sales in 2006, the Canadian Paediatric Society said.

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CBC | Health News