Sports Drinks and Oral Health for Kids
Every kid wants to be like their favorite athlete. Youngsters want to dress like their role models, act like them, and buy the same products. This has led to a rise in popularity of things like sports drinks and energy bars — designed to rehydrate athletes’ bodies after a tough match or workout, or provide energy and nutrients to last for hours of grueling exercise — being consumed casually. This is bad news, dentists warn, health drinks are not always healthy for kids, and the clear losers here are children’s teeth.
Why are Sports Drinks Not Healthy for Children
Sports drinks come packed with electrolytes, carbohydrates, and sugars. This is because your body’s supply of electrolytes and fluids becomes depleted after a long period of sweating hard, and the drink is designed to replenish those levels. The carbohydrates and sugars, while not especially good for you, serve a purpose as well. They help to slow your body’s absorption of the drink, giving your digestive system more time to absorb the good stuff from the drink before it’s fully passed through your body.
Sports drinks serve the purpose that they were created for, but the bottom line is that they’re still not exactly healthy. They typically have about half as much sugar per ounce as a typical soda. A Gatorade may be a better choice than Coca-Cola, but it’s still a lot of sugar to consume from a single beverage. Even athletes aren’t advised to consume them willy-nilly — before and during exercise, it’s recommended that they stick to water, or heavily dilute the drinks, so that they’re not consuming too much sugar when it’s not doing them any good.
And when kids are choosing sports drinks, but aren’t actually exercising? They just become one more unhealthy habit contributing to tooth decay and rising obesity rates.
A survey conducted by the Cardiff University School of Dentistry and published in the British Dental Journal shows that children are consuming sports drinks because they like the sweet taste, they’re widely available, and they’re cheap. Half of the children who participated in the survey said they consume the drinks “socially” and at leisure centers. Because they are associated with healthy, active lifestyles, kids may assume that these drinks are good for you, but the high levels of sugar and acids in these drinks are causing tooth decay and eroding enamel.
Are Protein Bars Good for Kids?
The same problem exists with nutrition bars. If sports drinks are the new soda, nutrition bars are the new candy bars. These snacks, intended for an energy boost pre- or post-workout, often contain just as much sugar as a chocolate bar and even more calories. To make them appealing, they’re made in yummy flavors that sound suspiciously like dessert — chocolate chip, peanut butter pie, etc.
Sure, these bars are great for providing lasting energy and staving off your appetite when you’re burning through calories while rock climbing, bicycling, or working out. But if kids pick one up at the convenience store as an after-school snack, thinking they’re making a healthy choice, they’re really just consuming lots of unnecessary calories and sugars.
According to the Cardiff University survey, parents are equally unaware that their kids’ sports drink and nutrition bar habits are unhealthy. It’s time for people of all ages to become more educated and recognize that foods designed to be consumed by athletes should be left to athletes only. Talk with your doctor about healthy drink choices for kids before grabbing a sports drink.
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My name is Jeremy Rourke. I’m part of a family of dentists with my father, brother, cousin and nephew also being dentists. I won a University of Sydney Dental Alumni prize for being the top student in my year and graduated with Honours in 1971. I have been a Registered dentist for over 40 years. In that time I have created a few “firsts” in my efforts to stay ahead.