Pediatrician Dr. Sue Hubbard often has asked parents: what are kids are drinking? Sports and Energy drinks have replaced old-fashioned sodas in many schools. There is no doubt that they are a hit with kids, but not with Dr. Sue and her fellow pediatricians.
A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that energy drinks, or any other drink with caffeine, should be off limits to children and teenagers. That includes colas and coffee drinks.
“There’s great concern about what caffeine does over time or in high doses to a young, growing body that’s not fully mature,” says Dr. Holly Benjamin, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the University of Chicago, and coauthor of the new report, which was published in Pediatrics. “It’s almost like a stress to your body.” She notes.
Energy drinks are packed with caffeine and other stimulants. Caffeine not only interferes with much needed sleep, but can lead to anxiety and rapid heart beats.
“Rigorous review and analysis of the literature reveal that caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents,” co-wroter Marcie Schneider of American Academy of Pediatrics, in a review of energy drinks. Some of the more popular brands include Red Bull and Monster.
Sports drinks do not contain caffeine but are loaded with sugar. That can cause other problems, such as obesity and tooth decay. “Kids will drink a Gatorade after school,” Benjamin says. “They’ll drink a Gatorade at lunch. They’ll drink a Gatorade with dinner.”
While the AAP statement recommended against children consuming any energy drinks, the authors noted that only certain athletic children who burn off the calories they consume should occasionally drink sports drinks.
Benjamin explained that athletes who exercise regularly at high intensity have a need to replenish electrolytes. “Sports drinks do have a place, but it’s in a small population. Parents need to understand that, and so do doctors.”
“Basically, the biggest problem with obesity is kids are taking too many calories in their diet and they’re not able to burn off all of those calories every day, and so they gain weight,” Benjamin said. “Kids are not just overeating, but they are drinking high-calorie beverages.”
What should kids be drinking to keep hydrated? Good old-fashioned water.
If your child is exercising at a moderate intensity for an hour or less, water is the best choice for hydration before and during a workout. You’ll save money if you choose tap water instead of bottled water (25% of bottled water is repackaged tap water) or sports drinks. Drinking water rather than sports drinks also saves calories – water is calorie free, while sports drinks typically pack 50 to 60 calories (and sometimes more) into a serving, and a 16-ounce bottle is 2 to 3 servings.
The authors conclude that energy drinks have no place in a most student-athlete’s diet. The report continually stresses the importance of teaching children and parents the substantial difference between sports and energy drinks, as both are often targeted toward the same audience.
The authors also note that since beverage-makers agreed to phase out carbonated beverages in schools by the 2009-10 school year, they’ve upped their promotion of sports drinks as a healthier alternative. A 2007 study by the Institute of Medicine cited in the report recommended that schools prohibit energy-drink use (even for athletes), ban the sale of carbonated beverages in school, and restrict the use of sports drinks to only student-athletes engaged in intense, prolonged physical activities.
While commercials promoting energy and sports drinks are designed to attract younger consumers, parents also play and important role by modeling good hydrating choices. Instead of grabbing that energy or sports drink for a little boost in the afternoon, reach for a glass or bottle of water instead.