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Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks Are Not for Children

Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks Are Not for Children

Your eight-year old daughter just finished soccer practice and she’s hot and sweaty. Your ten-year-old son scored a home run and he’s as hot and sweaty as your daughter is. They come to you for something to drink and you hand them each a nice, cold sports drink. After all, they need to rehydrate and to replenish electrolytes lost in exercise. That’s a good thing, right?

Not according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Sports drinks, which contain water, carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring, are generally unnecessary for children. In the face of today’s burgeoning childhood obesity, most children don’t need the extra calories that sports drinks contain. Additionally, they may promote tooth decay. Sports drinks are inappropriate for meals and in the school lunchroom as well. Instead, provide water after sporting activities – about four to six ounces for every fifteen to twenty minutes of exercise. Offer water, low-fat milk or 100% juice with meals. Save the sports drinks for teen athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities.

And how about those popular caffeine-filled energy drinks? The AAP recently released a report about the danger that high energy drinks pose to children and teens. These drinks are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. beverage industry, topping $9 billion each year in sales. Between 30% and 50% of young people say they drink energy drinks, and marketing is often directed at this population.

So what’s wrong with a little caffeine pick-me-up? A standard eight ounce cup of coffee contains between 100 and 200 milligrams of caffeine, with colas and soft drinks having about half that amount. Energy drinks typically contain a large amount of caffeine. The energy drink NOS has about 260 mg of caffeine while a drink called 5150 Juice has 500 mg. Monster Energy has 160 mg of caffeine in a can, and Red Bull has 76 mg. The Food and Drug Administration requires beverage makers to put the caffeine content on labels, and manufacturers are compliant.

However, caffeine is not the only stimulant in energy drinks. They also contain various herbal additives such as guarana, taurine, ginseng, gingko, and others. The FDA does not require the caffeine or stimulant properties of these additives to be on labels. According to the AAP, this means the actual amount of caffeine or stimulant in an energy drink is unknown. The additives may also interact with each other in unexpected ways that make the drink potentially more hazardous than if it only contained caffeine.

When consumed by children and teens, these products have caused seizures, heart problems, high blood pressure, behavioral issues and even sudden death. The sugar in such drinks can interfere with blood sugar control in young diabetics. The caffeine and additives may interact in unexpected ways with prescription medications. The AAP report cites one case where four middle grade students shared one can of Redline energy drink and had to be transported to the emergency room with heart problems, low potassium, and high blood sugar.

The AAP concludes that energy drinks have no benefit to children and may put young consumers at risk for serious health problems. Does all this mean that your teen can’t have any caffeine? The AAP recommends caffeine intake for adolescents and children should not exceed 100 mg per day. That equates to one cola or very small cup of coffee per day. Every parent should decide whether or not even a small amount of caffeine is appropriate for their child.

References: American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Clinical Report: Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate? Pediatrics. June 1, 2011.

Mayo Clinic: Caffeine Content for Coffee, Tea, Soda & more:

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