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Good food guide

Sports drinks may have adverse effects on teens' dental health

2:00pm Wednesday 29th June 2016 content supplied byNHS Choices

"High numbers of younger teenagers are risking tooth decay and obesity by regularly having high-sugar sport drinks," BBC News reports.

A survey of Welsh teenagers found high levels of consumption in teens, who seem unaware of their high-sugar content.

One hundred and sixty young teenagers completed a questionnaire which found that almost 90% had consumed sports drinks, with half consuming the drinks at least twice a week.

Many leading sports drinks contain both high levels of sugars and acids - a combination designed to damage surfaces of teeth and lead to tooth decay. Sugary drinks are also often high in "empty calories" (energy-rich, but nutrient-poor) which can contribute to weight gain and possible obesity in later life.

While the occasional sports drink may be suitable for teenagers recovering from a cross-country run or a game of netball or football, it's not a good idea to make them a staple part of your diet.

Added sugars shouldn't make up more than 5% of your daily calorie intake, which is around 30g of sugar a day for those aged 11 and over. The sugar content in a 500ml bottle of Lucozade sport is around 18g, with the energy version exceeding this.

The sweet taste, low price and availability of sports drinks make them attractive to teenagers. Therefore, it is important to make both teens and their parents aware of the risks.

 

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from Cardiff University.

The report was published in the peer-reviewed British Dental Journal, with no mention of a funding source or conflict of interest. The study is open-access, so you can read it for free online or download as a PDF.

Both BBC News and the Mail Online provided informative reports on the main findings of the study, along with a warning from the British Dental Association that, "Sports drinks are rarely a healthy choice and marketing them to the general population, and young people in particular, is grossly irresponsible. Elite athletes might have reason to use them, but for almost everyone else they represent a real risk to both their oral and their general health."

The British Soft Drinks Association responded by saying that, "Sports drinks are designed for vigorous physical activity and should be consumed in moderation. This year soft drinks firms agreed not to advertise drinks high in sugar to under-16s."

 

What kind of research was this?

This was a survey which aimed to investigate the consumption of sports drinks by young teenagers.

A survey is a good way of finding out the level of consumption, together with why and when the drinks are consumed. These findings can then be used to target health promotion campaigns to educate and also target behaviours that are detrimental to health.

 

What did the research involve?

Teenagers aged 12 to 14 were recruited from four schools in South Wales to take part in the study. The schools aimed to be representative of the range of socioeconomic backgrounds in the area and included one private school and three comprehensive schools. Two of the comprehensive schools provided education for boys and girls on separate sites and drew pupils from a more mixed demographic.

Prior to designing the questionnaire, eight teens were chosen to take part in a focus group, where they were informally asked about their consumption of sports drinks. Insight gained from this group was used to design the survey questions.

The questionnaire was completed by the teenagers, then anonymised. The survey covered:

  • consumption of sports drinks - including how often and what types
  • where the drinks were bought
  • why the children chose to drink the sports drink

 

What were the basic results?

One hundred and sixty teens completed the questionnaire.

The majority of teens had consumed sports drinks (89.4%), with almost half (48.3%) having them at least twice a week.

Of the sports drinks, Lucozade SportT was the most popular, with 88.8% of participants having consumed it. It appeared that for teens that chose the "other" option (21%), there was some confusion between sports and energy drinks, as only one child listed an unbranded isotonic drink.

Sports drinks were bought in a number of locations and for many children in more than one place; however, most were from local shops (80.4%) or supermarkets (54.5%).

When investigating why children opted for sports drinks, there were differences between genders: 77.9% of boys said this was related to physical exercise, while 51.4% of girls said they drank sports drinks socially.  

The primary reason for consuming sports drinks was the "nice taste" (90%), while energy (47.6%) and hydration (23.1%) were less popular responses.

 

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers conclude: "A high proportion of children consumed sports drinks regularly and outside of sporting activity. Dental health professionals should be aware of the popularity of sports drinks with children when giving health education advice or designing health promotion initiatives."

 

Conclusion

This study aimed to investigate consumption of sports drinks in young teenagers.

Sports drinks are designed for use after vigorous physical exercise and are not recommended for children. However, almost 90% of the teens surveyed drank sports drinks, half of whom drank them at least twice a week.

The findings of this study are limited, as it included a relatively small sample of young teens from South Wales, which reduces reliability and generalisability of the findings to other areas or age groups.

The researchers made an attempt to reduce bias by making the survey anonymous; however, there may still have been inaccuracy, due to the children not correctly remembering their drinking habits. Also, some children may have confused sports and energy drinks produced by some of the leading brands.

This study has investigated an important topic. If true, and large numbers of young teens are consuming sports drinks, then it is possible they are causing themselves damage through the large quantities of "free" sugar, any sugars added to food or drinks or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices, or acids, which are associated with dental caries (tooth decay) and erosion.

These findings chime with a study we covered in 2015 which found that around half of 15-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had tooth decay.

Sugar can be high in energy, but can often have few nutrients. Eating these foods too often can mean you eat more calories than you need, which can lead to weight gain and obesity.

The healthiest drink to get you hydrated before, during, or after exercise is good old tap water. 

Summary

"High numbers of younger teenagers are risking tooth decay and obesity by regularly having high-sugar sport drinks," BBC News reports. A survey of Welsh teenagers found high levels of consumption in teens, who seem unaware of their high-sugar content.

Links to Headlines

High sport drink use among young teens 'risk to health'. BBC News, June 27 2016

Sugary sports drinks 'raise the risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay'. Mail Online, June 26 2016

Links to Science

Broughton D, Fairchild RM, Morgan MZ. A survey of sports drinks consumption among adolescents. British Dental Journal. Published online June 24 2016

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