Many children and parents mistakenly associate sugary sports drinks with a healthy lifestyle, claim researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston (UTHealth).
A new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, examined intake of sugary drinks – those containing caloric sweeteners such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup – physical activity levels and healthy and unhealthy food consumption of more than 15,000 eighth- and eleventh-grade Texan students. They found that consumption of flavored and sports beverages was significantly associated with healthy behaviors, while there was no such association with soda consumption.
“Sports drinks have been successfully marketed as beverages consistent with a healthy lifestyle, which has set them apart from sodas. However they have minimal fruit juice and contain unnecessary calories,” said Nalini Ranjit, lead researcher and associate professor of behavioral sciences at the UTHealth School of Public Health. “…Children and parents associate these drinks with a healthy lifestyle despite their increased amount of sugar and lack of nutritional value.”
In particular, the researchers found that black children consumed less soda than white or Hispanic children, but that their level of sports drink consumption was “significantly higher”. For boys of all ethnicities, those who participated in sports and vigorous physical activity tended to consume more sports drinks and less soda than those who were less active.
Additionally, vegetable and fruit consumption increased with sports drink consumption, but decreased with soda consumption.
Researchers found that 28 percent of children in the study sample consumed three or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day.
“High levels of consumption of these beverages has the potential to increase weight gain,” said Ranjit. “Drinking just one can of soda or other sugary beverage a day could lead to more than a ten-pound weight gain in a year.”
The researchers said that sports drinks should be reserved for “extreme exercise”, and otherwise children should rehydrate with water.
“Consumption of FSBs [flavored and sports beverages] coexists with healthy dietary and physical activity behaviors, which suggests popular misperception of these beverages as being consistent with a healthy lifestyle,” the authors concluded. “Assessment and obesity-prevention efforts that target sugar-sweetened beverages need to distinguish between FSBs and sodas.”
doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1229 Published online ahead of print
“Dietary and Activity Correlates of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among Adolescents”
Authors: Nalini Ranjit, Martin H. Evans, Courtney Byrd-Williams, Alexandra E. Evans, and Deanna M. Hoelscher.