Health

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

Children influenced by advertising for unhealthy food and drinks

CBC News

September 26, 2017

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Children and teens shouldn't consume sports and energy drinks, nor should they be marketed to them, Canadian pediatricians say  1:58

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.

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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.

Joey Kapel, nine, consumes sports drink at a hockey rink in Toronto. (Melanie Glanz/CBC)

"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 Canadian Paediatric Society considers the sugar and caffeine in energy drinks a risk for children. (Canadian Press)

In May, a teen in South Carolina likely died from a caffeine-induced heart arrhythmia, a local coroner said. He had "chugged" an energy drink and drank a large pop and a latte within two hours. 

The society said pediatricians should:

Pound encouraged everyone under 18 to stop consuming the drinks. For minors who drink a lot and may feel some effects if they stop completely all of sudden, she suggested tapering down consumption. 

Pediatrician 'quite appalled'

Norma Walton of Toronto said during hockey season, her four children go through 24 bottles of Gatorade a week. At the rink, Gatorade and Powerade bottles line the boards and sports and energy drinks fill the vending machines.

"We went to the pediatrician recently," Walton recalled. "He was quite appalled and suggested we go directly to water."

Walton said her children tried to switch to water, but they've since gone back to the sports drinks. "I think it's part of the hockey culture."

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

Athlete role models

"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."

Water is ideal for rehydration in sport, pediatricians say. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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.

Advertising Standards Canada, which includes some members of the food industry, 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 said its guidelines prevent the marketing of beverages targeted to children under the age of 12 other than 100 per cent juice, milk and water.

In response to the pediatric report, the beverage group said sports drinks and energy drinks are very different in composition and functionality and should not be a combined focus for recommendations.

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.

With files from CBC's Amina Zafar and Vik Adhopia
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