Excess sugar in sports drinks is not healthy for either adults or children.
A recent survey undertaken by Cardiff University School of Dentistry (1) published in the British Dental Journal, showed a high proportion of 12 to 14 year olds are regularly consuming sports drinks that are high in sugar.
The survey showed that 89% of schoolchildren are drinking sports drinks and of those, 68% are drinking them regularly - from one to seven times a week. 50% of the children surveyed claimed they were drinking them for social reasons. The high sugar content and low pH of sports drinks increases the risk of tooth enamel, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The study showed that 80% of the children buy these drinks in their local shop. One third of children said low price was a major factor and 26% bought these drinks in a leisure centre.
There were 160 children from four schools across South Wales included in the study. The survey showed that 90% of the children were attracted to sports drinks because of their sweet taste, low price and availability. Only 18% of the children surveyed claimed to drink them because of the perceived performance enhancing effect.
The research highlights the fact that parents and children are not aware that sports drinks are not intended to be consumed by children. The FSEM (Federation of Sports and Exercise Medicine in the UK) recommends that drinking water and milk is sufficient to hydrate children and adults before during and after exercise. There is actually no evidence of beneficial effects of sports drinks in non-elite athletes or children. There is evidence that an increasing consumption of sugar sweetened drinks in the UK increases cardiometabolic risks (2) (atherosclerotic cardiovascular (CV) disease and diabetes mellitus)
The survey also showed that there is confusion over sports drinks versus energy drinks. From a dental wider health perspective, both have similar detrimental effects due to their high sugar content and low pH. . Sports drinks have actually been connected with tooth decay in athletes (3). A 500ml of Lucozade sport contains 18g of sugar, which is equivalent to four and a half teaspoons, which is more than half of an adult’s recommended daily limit.
The FSEM UK is calling for tighter regulation around the price, availability and marketing of sports drinks to children, especially surrounding school areas, to safeguard general and dental health. The FSEM is concerned about an increasing UK trend for the consumption of sports drinks (4).
Professor Moira O’Brien, Founder of the IOS, 2015 recipient of the Rodger Banister award, which recognises an individual’s lifetime outstanding contribution to the field of Sport and Exercise Medicine and, past Doctor to the Irish Olympic team at three Olympic Games, comments:
“Parents need to realise the importance of studies like this. Water and milk are sufficient for children and adults. Most children are being given the money to buy these products from their parents, which is ironic since the parents will be the ones paying the dental bills”.
 A survey of sports drinks consumption amongst adolescents. Br Dent J 2016; 220: 639-643, D Broughton BDS (Hons), RM Fairchild BSc (Hons), PhD, MZ Morgan BSc (Hons), PGCE, MPH, MPhil, FFPH. Applied Clinical Research and Public Health, College of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Cardiff University, School of Dentistry, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Department of Healthcare and Food.
Sweetening of the Global Diet, particularly beverages: patterns, trends, and policy responses. The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology volume 4, No.2 p174-186, February 2016, Prof Barry M Popkin, PhD, Prof Corinna Hawkes, PhD.
Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK, Position Statement, Oral Health in Sport, October 2014, Professor Ian Needleman
UCL Eastman Centre for Oral Health and Performance Better Oral Health for Footballers Needed, statement published 3 November 2015. Poor oral health including active caries in 187 UK professional male football players: clinical dental examination performed by dentists, Br J Sports Med 2016;50:41-44 doi:10.1136/