FoodFacts.com has no doubt that, by now, most parents are fully engaged in dissuading their teens from the consumption of energy drinks. There’s been so much news about emergency room visits and deaths linked to these beverages. In addition, most parents of teens are aware that teenagers are particularly drawn to them. Just walking into your local convenience store after school hours will give you a clear picture of how true that statement actually is. And while sports drinks aren’t in the news for possible links to hospital visits and deaths, they’re certainly a subject of controversy. Both product categories contain too much sugar, bad ingredients, caffeine and possible stimulants. Both are nutritionally vacant. And both are unnecessary as part of any healthy diet.
Now a new study reveals that the consumption of these beverages may, in fact, be linked to other unhealthy behaviors in teenagers. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Duke University in Durham, NC, have found an association between weekly consumption of sports and energy drinks and higher consumption of other sugary drinks, cigarette smoking and use of screen media.
The high sugar, calorie and caffeine content of sports and energy drinks is an area of concern for health care professionals and these drinks have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. National data have shown that although there has been a fall in consumption of soft drinks and fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks have tripled in consumption among adolescents.
The researchers behind the new study – which is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior – gathered data from 2,793 adolescents across 20 public middle and high schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area during the 2009-10 school year.
The students reported data on their height, weight, how often they drink sports and energy drinks, how often they eat breakfast, how much physical activity they engage in, how much time they spend playing video games and watching TV, and whether or not they smoke.
Despite consumption of sports drinks being linked to higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, overall, the researchers found that consumption of sports and energy drinks contributes to a growing cluster of unhealthy behaviors among adolescents.
The study finds a link between smoking, high consumption of other sugary drinks, and prolonged time watching TV or playing video games with weekly sports and energy drinks consumption.
Lead author Nicole Larson, PhD, from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, explains:
“Among boys, weekly sports drink consumption was significantly associated with higher TV viewing; boys who regularly consumed sports drinks spent about 1 additional hour per week watching TV, compared with boys who consumed sports drinks less than once per week.
Boys who consumed energy drinks at least weekly spent approximately 4 additional hours per week playing video games, compared with those who consumed energy drinks less than once per week.”
Dr. Larson and her team say that future research and interventions should do more to promote healthy hydration habits in adolescents and target the clustering of behaviors that present health risks to youth.
The position on these drinks from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that sports drinks should only be consumed by adolescents after vigorous and prolonged physical activity.
The AAP asserts that energy drinks, meanwhile, should not be consumed as they offer no health benefits and increase risks for overstimulation of the nervous system.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that around 73% of children consume caffeine on a daily basis. The CDC also reported that 20% of teenagers who consume energy drinks believe them to be safe.
A recent study from researchers at Iowa State University suggested that the drinks’ labeling may be to blame for the misperception of energy drinks as not being harmful. Current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines do not require caffeine and other stimulants to be listed in product labeling.
Also, although the FDA says that up to 400 mg of caffeine a day is not associated with adverse effects in adults, the administration has not issued any caffeine recommendations for children and adolescents.
We’re all aware that it’s harder to set rules for teenagers regarding food and beverage consumption. As our kids grow, they spend less time in the home. With after school activities, friends, sports and parties, teens are under the watchful eyes of their parents and caregivers less than they were when they were younger. Of course, we want that for them. A growing sense of independence is important for their development. Ultimately, we can’t forbid sports or energy drinks from them. What we can do, however, is engage them in honest conversation about the effects of these beverages. Studies have shown, that while they may not acknowledge it, the words of parents and caregivers have more influence over teen behaviors than many believe. These are important conversations. In addition to helping keep kids away from readily available beverages that can hurt their health, conversations like these can also turn their attention towards the importance of understanding what’s actually in the foods and beverages they choose to consume. And that can help them make better choices nutritionally for the rest of their lives.