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The 2012 Olympics have started and children across the world are being inspired by the athletes and events they see on television. They are also being inundated with ads for assorted sports drinks. Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among American children has been increasing steadily over the past three decades.  Adolescents now obtain 10 percent to 15 percent of their caloric intake from sugar-sweetened beverages.  “Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with excess weight gain, poor nutrition, displacement of healthful beverages, and a higher risk for obesity and diabetes.”

Most people associate the term “sugar-sweetened beverages” with carbonated beverages, or soda.  However, this term is also associated with other drinks, such as sweetened teas, fruit-flavored drinks, fruit punches, and other beverages that contain large amounts of added sugar.  This includes sports drinks or electrolyte containing beverages.Sportsdrink-150x150

Given the already elevated levels of added sugar in the American diet and its detrimental impact on health, the increased consumption of sports drinks among youths in recent years is of growing concern for parents, health professionals, and public health advocates. This research review examines the evidence about children’s and adolescents’ consumption of sports drinks and the related health and policy implications.

This research review summarizes the current literature on sports drinks trends, marketing of sports drinks to children and adolescents, and the health implications associated with sports drink consumption.  Highlights of the research include:

  • Sports drink consumption is increasing.
  • Sports drink manufacturers are targeting children and adolescents.
  • Sports drinks are marketed as a healthy alternative to soda.
  • The benefits of sports drinks are appropriate only for athletes or individuals engaging in prolonged vigorous physical activity, and/or those activities performed in high temperatures and humidity.
  • The average American child or adolescent does not engage in enough physical activity to warrant consumption of sports drinks.
  • Water and a balanced diet are recommended and optimal for children and adolescents who do not participate in high-intensity physical activity lasting more than one hour.
  • Sports drinks are a source of added sugars and contribute to excess energy intake.
  • Consumption of sports drinks may increase risk for poor dental health.
  • Sports drinks are a source of sodium and contribute to increasing sodium intakes among American youths.
  • Sports drinks may displace necessary nutrients for growing youths.

While there has been much research completed on the implications of high soda consumption and other sweetened beverages, comparatively little research has looked at the role of sports drinks in relation to excess caloric intake, weight gain, and health effects, so more research in this area is warranted.  Parents, teachers, coaches, and children/adolescents need to understand the potential risks of consuming sports drinks. They also need to learn how to counteract marketing that leads youths to believe that consuming sports drinks will enhance athletic performance.

For more information read the full article as part of the Healthy Eating Research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.