McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

August 25, 2012

Sports/energy drinks not appropriate for children and adolescents

By LaDell Emmons
Special Correspondent

McALESTER — Despite the fact that sports and energy drinks are marketed to the under 18-years-of-age population, these drinks are not always a good choice for children, especially when consumed at meals and snacks in place of low-fat milk or water.

These beverages are often consumed inappropriately because they are perceived to be healthier choices compared to soft drinks. Sports drinks are flavored beverages that contain carbohydrates, minerals and electrolytes. They were developed for endurance athletes to optimize performance by replacing electrolytes and fluid lost through sweat while exercising. If youth are involved in prolonged (one hour or more) and vigorous physical activity or in hot, humid weather conditions, they may benefit from sports drinks. However, for the average child engaged in normal physical activity, sports drinks are not necessary.

Routine consumption of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks can lead to excessive caloric intake and can increase the risk of overweight and obesity, which are major problems for today’s youth. In addition, citric acid is a common ingredient in sports drinks and can cause dental erosion from excessive consumption. The best thing for youth to drink is water.

It’s an essential dietary component and provides adequate hydration needed for normal body functioning during exercise and routine daily activity. A person’s need for water increases during exercise and in environmental conditions including heat, humidity and sun exposure. Lack of adequate water intake results in dehydration, which can affect sports performance.

Both children and adults should be taught to drink water as the routine beverage of first choice. It should be readily accessible to children, especially during the school day.

Energy drinks can pose potential health risks because of the stimulant content. Caffeine is the primary source of stimulants in energy drinks and these drinks usually contain much larger amounts than found in a serving of cola. A 12-ounce can of cola contains about 42 mg of caffeine while energy drinks vary from 300 mg to 480 mg.

Some research shows that caffeine can enhance physical performance in adults, but the effects in children and adolescents have not been studied.  However, there is increased evidence of caffeine toxicity and addiction in youth, which can adversely affect development of the neurological and cardiovascular systems. Due to these negative effects, excessive caffeine consumption should be discouraged for all children.

Given the high rates of childhood overweight and obesity, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends eliminating all calorie-containing beverages from a well-balanced diet, with the exception of low-fat or fat-free milk.

Sports drinks should be limited to use by children and adolescents only when engaged in strenuous endurance activities that last for an hour or more, or when the weather conditions are extremely hot and humid. Energy drinks are not recommended under any circumstances.

For more information in Pittsburg County, call 918-423-4120 or log onto

LaDell Emmons is the Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for the Pittsburg County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at