Sports drinks promise hydration and energy for athletes after a tough workout. But too many children drink them as well simply because of the sweet taste, low price, and availability, putting their teeth at risk, according to the Cardiff University School of Dentistry.
“The purpose of sports drinks are being misunderstood, and this study clearly shows evidence of high school age children being attracted to these high-sugar and low-pH-level drinks, leading to an increased risk of dental cavities, enamel erosion, and obesity,” said Maria Morgan, senior lecturer in dental public health at the university.
The survey polled 160 children ages 12 to 14 years in 4 schools across South Wales, with 89% consuming sports drinks and 68% drinking them between once and 7 times a week. Also, half of those children polled drink these beverages socially, with 90% reporting taste and a third reporting price as a factor. Only 18% drink them for athletic purposes.
The survey also showed that most parents and children aren’t aware that sports drinks aren’t intended to be consumed by children. The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (FSEM) is calling for tighter regulation of the price, availability, and marketing of sports drinks to children, especially around schools, to safeguard general and dental health.
“Sports drinks are intended for athletes taking part in endurance and intense sporting events,” said Dr. Paul D. Jackson, president of FSEM UK. “They are also connected with tooth decay in athletes and should be used following the advice of dental and healthcare teams dedicated to looking after athletes. Water or milk is sufficient enough to hydrate active children. High-sugar sports drinks are unnecessary for children and most adults.”
“The rise of sports drinks as just another soft drink option among children is a real cause for concern, and both parents and government must take note,” said Russ Ladwa, chair of the British Dental Association Health and Science Committee. “They are laden with acids and sugars and could be behind the decay problems we’re now seeing among top footballers.”
The survey also concluded that there is particular confusion over the definition of sports drinks versus energy drinks. The researchers noted that from dental and broader health perspectives, though, both types have similar detrimental effects due to their high sugar content and low pH levels. Sports drinks also are sold alongside other sugar-sweetened beverages, misleading parents and children into thinking they are safe for everyone, the researchers said.
The study, “A survey of sports drinks consumption among adolescents,” was published by the British Dental Journal.
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