Dentists routinely caution patients about the over-consumption of soda pop, juice and sports drinks that pack little if any nutritional value and take a toll on teeth.
Now the American Academy of Pediatrics is taking aim at energy and sports drinks, saying that in most cases, kids don't need them and some products contain substances that can be harmful to children.
First, the co-authors explain the differences between sports drinks and energy drinks. Sports drinks—which contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavoring—are intended to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. Sports drinks can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities, but in most cases they are unnecessary on the sports field or in the school lunchroom.
"For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best," said Holly J. Benjamin, M.D., a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and report co-author. "Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don't need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay. It's better for children to drink water during and after exercise, and to have the recommended intake of juice and low-fat milk with meals. Sports drinks are not recommended as beverages to have with meals."
Energy drinks contain substances not found in sports drinks that act as stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana and taurine.
Caffeine—by far the most popular stimulant—has been linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems. Energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents, said Dr. Benjamin and co-author Marcie Beth Schneider, M.D., a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition. In general, caffeine-containing beverages, including soda, should be avoided.
"In many cases, it's hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label," Dr. Schneider said. "Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda."
Children and adolescents should avoid (or restrict) intake of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks because they can increase the risk of overweight and obesity and dental erosion, says AAP. Water, not sports drinks, should be the principal source of hydration for children and adolescents.
"There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products," said Dr. Schneider. "Some kids are drinking energy drinks—containing large amounts of caffeine—when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise. This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous."
The report, issued May 30 and published in the June issue of Pediatrics, is called "Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?"
Dentists share a concern with the article's central focus: the over-consumption of sports drinks.
Foods that contain sugars of any kind can contribute to tooth decay. When teeth are not cleaned after eating, plaque bacteria in the mouth use the sugar to produce acids that can destroy the hard surface of the tooth, called enamel. After a while, tooth decay occurs. When teeth come in frequent contact with soda pop, juice drinks, sports drinks and beverages with added sugars, the risk of decay increases.
The American Dental Association not only reminds patients to restrict intake of these beverages, but also opposes "pouring contracts" in schools that include the promotion of soft drink products and require schools to allow pervasive marketing to children that can influence their consumption patterns.
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