May 31, 2011 -- Children should never drink high-octane energy drinks and rarely need to drink sports drinks, according to a new position paper by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Energy drinks are particularly unhealthy for children due to the risks associated with caffeine and/or other stimulants included in the drink, the report says.
The report is published in the June issue of Pediatrics.
"All of us get a lot of questions about sports and energy drinks and we knew this topic was a Pandora's box," says study co-author Marcie Beth Schneider, MD, a pediatrician at Greenwich Adolescent Medicine in Greenwich, Conn.
Sports Drinks vs. Energy Drinks
"Sports drinks and energy drinks are different types of drinks," she says. Sports drinks contain carbs, minerals, electrolytes, flavoring, and calories. They replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during intense exercise only. By contrast, energy drinks are loaded with caffeine and other stimulants including guarana and taurine.
The report lists the active ingredients found in many available sports drinks, including Accelerade, All Sport Body Quencher, Gatorade, and Powerade and in energy drinks including Full Throttle, Monster Energy, Power Trip, Red Bull, and Rockstar,
Energy drinks are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should not be consumed, the report states. Some cans or bottles of energy drinks have more than 100 milligrams of caffeine, the report says.
"They have stimulants and should not be confused with sport drinks at all," Schneider says. Side effects from too much caffeine can include increase in heart rate, blood pressure, speech, anxiety levels and lead to insomnia.
"Caffeine is addictive and just like adults, kids can have withdrawal," she says.
"Most sports drinks have calories and sugar which can lead to weight gain and dental erosion," Schneider says. "They have a limited use for specific kids and teen athletes involved in prolonged vigorous sports or other activities."
"These drinks need don't need to be at lunchtime," she says
Let them drink water, says Cynthia Pegler, MD, an adolescent medical specialist in New York City.
"For most kids who do sports, water was the drink to encourage instead of all these other sugary drinks," she says. Watering down a sports drink is not a bad idea per se, but "the more kids learn to like the taste of water, the better it is for them," she says.
"The real energy drinks are bad news," she says. "Too much caffeine is not good for anybody and can lead to sleep problems, and if a child is also on a stimulant medicine to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, you are now getting an extra whammy. This is not a good combination."
Parents need to set limits about the amount of caffeine their kids are getting and how late they stay up, she says. "The hard part is that there is no age limit, and anyone can go buy energy drinks in any deli or store."
Also, Pegler says, parents need to be good role models when it comes to energy drinks, just as they should be with alcohol and healthy eating. "You can't tell your kids not to drink these drinks if you do it yourself."
"It is about time that something like this comes out that addresses the non-needs for sports drink and energy drinks," says Kelly Sinclair, RD, clinical dietician at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
"Unless you are a very intense athlete who exercises for more than 60 minutes at a time with [a lot of] sweating, you don't need a sugar-sweetened beverage," she says.
Don't confuse exercise duration and intensity. Soccer practice may run two hours, but it doesn't mean the vigorous exercise lasts that long, she says.
"Soccer is part scrimmage, part drills, part stretching, and part standing around," she says.
"I don't want you to drink your calories; I want you to eat them, "she says. Beverages should be 10 calories or less, Sinclair says.
"You don't want to replace all the calories that you burn during activity with a sports drink," she says. And "you don't need more of these taste-like-sugar drinks than water."
Another use for these sports drinks is for rehydration during certain illnesses, she says.
As far as energy drinks and kids, "you wouldn't sit kids down and give them a cup of coffee," she says, "If your teen is sluggish in the morning, skipping breakfast and not getting enough sleep, the energy drink is a band-aid for an underlying problem that needs evaluation."
Maureen Storey, PhD, senior vice president of science policy at the American Beverage Association (ABA), a trade association representing companies making nonalcoholic drinks, says that the group supports the AAPs' position on educating the public about the differences between sports and energy drinks.
"With respect to sports drinks and energy drinks, ABA member companies have committed not to offer energy drinks for sale in K-12 schools and to offer calorie-capped sports drinks in 12-ounce or smaller containers to high schools only," she says in a statement. "The companies do not advertise beverages other than juice water or milk-based drinks to any audience that is comprised predominantly of children under 12."