April 2018 CONSULT

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UMMC experts say 'sports drinks' not ideal thirst-quenchers for children, teens

Published on Thursday, April 5, 2018

By: Annie Oeth

Whether playing outside, running in a ballgame or twirling during dance practice, children and adolescents can work up a full-grown thirst.

What they reach for to hydrate can make a huge difference in their health, University of Mississippi Medical Center pediatric experts say.


“Most children and teenagers don’t exercise vigorously enough to need the extra calories and sodium that are in sports drinks,” said Keisha Luckey, Children’s of Mississippi pediatric diabetes educator. “We recommend water for hydration, and if you are on a public water system, it doesn’t have to be filtered.”

According to a 2011 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “sports drinks” are of “limited value” to young athletes and should only be used when there is a need for rapid replenishment of carbohydrates or electrolytes along with fluids during “prolonged, vigorous physical activity.”

Sitting on the sofa playing video games does not quality. Children and teenagers who down bottle after bottle of carbohydrate-containing sugary “sports drinks” without burning those calories can end up carrying extra weight and getting cavities.

“We highly discourage sports drinks,” Luckey said, “because of the sugar they contain, but also because they have so much sodium.”

How much? Luckey said a 20-ounce “sports drink” contains nearly nine teaspoons of sugar and about 160 milligrams of sodium. That’s more than a tenth of the ideal amount of sodium recommended for most adults by the American Heart Association. The maximum amount of salt recommended per day is 2,300 milligrams, or 1 teaspoon.

What about “energy drinks?” In the same clinical report, the AAP said “energy drinks” should never be consumed by children or adolescents because they “pose potential health risks because of the stimulants they contain.”

“They’ve also said no caffeine for those younger than 18,” said Krista King, a registered dietitian who works to reduce childhood obesity at Children’s of Mississippi’s Weight and Wellness Clinic.

With that in mind, “energy drinks” can pack as much as 230 milligrams of caffeine into a serving, such as 5-hour Energy Extra Strength, an energy shot. The drink version can also be high in caffeine – for example, an 8.4-ounce can of Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine.

Caffeine, well known as a stimulant, can cause heart palpitations and increased blood pressure, King said. “And some of our patients already have blood pressure higher than it should be.”

Good ole H2O has plenty of benefits for children and adults. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water helps regulate body temperature; lubricates and cushions joints; protects the spinal cord and other sensitive tissues; and rids the body of waste.

Luckey said adding lemon, lime or orange slices, strawberries or cucumbers to water can give it a flavor boost without sugar, encouraging children and teenagers to drink more water than usual.

“The more water you drink,” she said, “the more you want to drink water, because it’s good for you.”

Thirsty for more ways to boost water intake? The CDC offers these tips:

  • Carry a water bottle and refill it during the day.
  • Freeze a few freezer-safe water bottles and take them along for ice-cold water all day.
  • Choose water when eating at restaurants, a healthy choice that can save money.

U.S. adolescents who drink less water tended to drink less milk, eat less fruits and vegetables, drink more sugar-sweetened beverages, eat more fast food and get less physical activity.