A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Duke University in Durham, NC, finds an association between weekly consumption of sports and energy drinks and higher consumption of other sugary drinks, cigarette smoking and use of screen media.
The high sugar, calorie and caffeine content of sports and energy drinks is an area of concern for health care professionals and these drinks have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. National data have shown that although there has been a fall in consumption of soft drinks and fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks have tripled in consumption among adolescents.
The researchers behind the new study - which is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior - gathered data from 2,793 adolescents across 20 public middle and high schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area during the 2009-10 school year.
The students reported data on their height, weight, how often they drink sports and energy drinks, how often they eat breakfast, how much physical activity they engage in, how much time they spend playing video games and watching TV, and whether or not they smoke.
Despite consumption of sports drinks being linked to higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, overall, the researchers found that consumption of sports and energy drinks contributes to a growing cluster of unhealthy behaviors among adolescents.
The study finds a link between smoking, high consumption of other sugary drinks, and prolonged time watching TV or playing video games with weekly sports and energy drinks consumption.
Lead author Nicole Larson, PhD, from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, explains:
"Among boys, weekly sports drink consumption was significantly associated with higher TV viewing; boys who regularly consumed sports drinks spent about 1 additional hour per week watching TV, compared with boys who consumed sports drinks less than once per week.
Boys who consumed energy drinks at least weekly spent approximately 4 additional hours per week playing video games, compared with those who consumed energy drinks less than once per week."
Dr. Larson and her team say that future research and interventions should do more to promote healthy hydration habits in adolescents and target the clustering of behaviors that present health risks to youth.
What is the position on sports and energy drinks from health care bodies?
The position on these drinks from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that sports drinks should only be consumed by adolescents after vigorous and prolonged physical activity.
The AAP asserts that energy drinks, meanwhile, should not be consumed as they offer no health benefits and increase risks for overstimulation of the nervous system.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that around 73% of children consume caffeine on a daily basis. The CDC also reported that 20% of teenagers who consume energy drinks believe them to be safe.
A recent study from researchers at Iowa State University suggested that the drinks' labeling may be to blame for the misperception of energy drinks as not being harmful. Current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines do not require caffeine and other stimulants to be listed in product labeling.
Also, although the FDA says that up to 400 mg of caffeine a day is not associated with adverse effects in adults, the administration has not issued any caffeine recommendations for children and adolescents.