Regular consumption of sports drinks a risk to children’s health

Acids and sugars in sports drinks contribute to tooth decay
Acids and sugars in sports drinks contribute to tooth decay

New research has found that 89% of school children are consuming sports drinks, with 68% drinking them regularly (between once and seven times per week).

The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (FSEM) UK has commented that regular consumption of sports drinks by children, for social reasons, could be having a detrimental effect on their health.

The survey by Cardiff University School of Dentistry, and published in the British Dental Journal, showed that a high proportion (68%) of 12-14-year-olds are regularly consuming high sugar, sports drinks unnecessarily.

The survey looked at 160 children in four schools across South Wales and found that children are attracted to sports drinks because of their sweet taste, low price and availability. The research highlights the fact that parents and children are not aware that sports drinks are not intended for consumption by children.

The FSEM recommends that water and milk is sufficient enough to hydrate children and adults before during and after exercise, there is no evidence of beneficial effects of sports drinks in non-elite athletes or children. However, there is evidence that an increasing consumption of sugar sweetened drinks in the UK increases cardiometabolic risks and contributes to tooth decay.

Half of the children surveyed claimed to drink them socially and most (80%) purchased sports drinks in local shops, while 90% claimed that taste was a factor and only 18% said they drink them because of the perceived performance enhancing effect.

The FSEM is calling for tighter regulation around the price, availability and marketing of sports drinks to children, especially surrounding the school area, to safeguard general and dental health.

Dr Paul D Jackson, president of the FSEM UK comments: ‘The proportion of children in this study who consume high carbohydrate drinks, which are designed for sport, in a recreational non-sporting context, is of concern.

‘Sports drinks are intended for athletes taking part in endurance and intense sporting events, they are also connected with tooth decay in athletes and should be used following the advice of dental and healthcare teams dedicated to looking after athletes. Water or milk is sufficient enough to hydrate active children, high sugar sports drinks are unnecessary for children and most adults.’

Maria Morgan, senior lecturer in dental public health says: ‘The purpose of sports drinks is being misunderstood and this study clearly shows evidence of high school age children being attracted to these high sugar and low pH level drinks, leading to an increased risk of dental cavities, enamel erosion and obesity.

‘Dental and health professionals should be aware of the popularity of sports drinks with children when giving health education or advice or designing health promotion initiatives.’

Russ Ladwa, chair of the British Dental Association’s Health and Science Committee says: ‘The rise of sports drinks as just another soft drink option among children is a real cause for concern, and both parents and government must take note. They are laden with acids and sugars, and could be behind the decay problems we’re now seeing among top footballers.

‘Sports drinks are rarely a healthy choice, and marketing them to the general population, and young people in particular, is grossly irresponsible. Elite athletes might have reason to use them, but for almost everyone else they represent a real risk to both their oral and their general health.’


Broughton D, Fairchild RM, Morgan MZ (2016) A survey of sports drinks consumption among adolescents. British Dental Journal 220: 639-643

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