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Consumption of Sports and Energy Drinks Found Linked With Unhealthy Behaviors

Adolescents who consume sports drinks (such as Gatorade) or energy drinks (containing caffeine) on a weekly basis are more likely to smoke cigarettes, consume sugar-sweetened soft drinks or fruit drinks, and play video games more frequently, according to a study published online last week in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The study drew upon data from 2,793 students in 20 public middle and high schools from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area during the 2009-10 school year. The study population had a mean age of 14.4, with 46.1 percent in middle school and the remaining 53.9 percent in high school. A large majority of the students (81.1 percent) reported a background other than non-Hispanic white.

In total, 37.9 percent of the students reported drinking at least one sports drink per week, while 14.7 percent did the same in terms of energy drinks. Of the 1,307 boys in the study, 44.9 percent reported drinking at least one sports drink a week and 17.1 percent did so with energy drinks, compared with 31.6 percent and 12.5 percent among girls, respectively.

Both boys and girls who consumed at least one sports drink or one energy drink per week participated in a higher amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week compared to peers who consumed fewer than one per week. However, consumption of both types of beverages was also linked to a host of unhealthy behaviors as well.

Students of both genders who regularly consumed sports and energy drinks also viewed television for more hours per week, played video games more frequently, and drank a higher number of sugared sodas and fruit drinks, comparatively. Both boys and girls who drink at least one sports drink or one energy drink were also significantly more likely to have ever tried smoking a cigarette than their peers.

"The observed associations between consumption of sports and energy drinks and these unhealthy behaviors are troubling because they may indicate a clustering of problem behaviors among some adolescents," the authors conclude. "Given these findings, advertising of sports and energy drinks to youth is particular concerning."

Back in 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised student-athletes to turn to water instead of energy drinks except in very limited circumstances (immediately following prolonged vigorous activity). The academy cited dental erosion, obesity, and caffeine addiction as three possible side effects from consumption of sports drinks or energy drinks.

Since adolescents who regularly consume energy and sports drinks engage in a greater amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week compared to those who have less than one such beverage per week, the study authors posit that marketers may be targeting adolescent athletes. They express concern that such ads may suggest these beverages "are beneficial for activities that do not involve vigorous and prolonged exertion," which would go against the advice of the pediatrics academy.

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