Children should avoid sports & energy drinks, say paediatricians

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Caffeine concentrations in energy drinks can reach up to 400mg/liter in Canada. Pic:getty
Caffeine concentrations in energy drinks can reach up to 400mg/liter in Canada. Pic:getty

Related tags Energy drinks Coffee Energy drink Caffeine

A new position statement from the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) says that ‘sports and caffeinated energy drinks can pose serious health risks to children and youth and should be avoided’.

Its report slams energy drinks as ‘unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst’; and says it is advocating for legislation to prevent the marketing of such beverages to youth.

However, the Canadian Beverage Association says its members already have ‘stringent marketing standards’ – such as refraining from selling energy drinks in schools – adding that sports and energy drinks should not be a combined focus for recommendations due to different compositions and functionality.

Caffeine levels in energy drinks

The CPS says that the amount of caffeine in energy drinks typically exceeds Health Canada’s maximum daily intake for children.

“Caffeinated-energy drinks claim to boost energy, reduce fatigue and improve concentration. When mixed with alcohol, these drinks can be especially dangerous. Among university students, studies have shown an association with risk-taking behaviors such as drug use.”  

Meanwhile, sports and caffeinated energy drinks may contribute to obesity and dental cavities in children and adolescents, adds the society.

“Because of the dangers associated with caffeinated energy drinks, the CPS is also advocating for legislation to prevent their marketing to youth.”

The CPS is recommending that paediatricians should ask children and adolescents about their sports and energy drink consumption; and “educate children, adolescents and families concerning the potential health risks posed by carbonated energy drinks”.

“Paediatricians should counsel children, adolescents and parents that water is the most appropriate replacement fluid for routine physical activity,” i​t says. “Consuming sports beverages during sporting activities should be reserved for young athletes involved in prolonged and vigorous activities.”

Caffeine recommendations: Canada

For adults over 19 years old, up to 400mg caffeine a day is considered safe.

For adolescents, Health Canada has not developed definitive advice but suggests daily caffeine intake is no more than 2.5mg per kilo of body weight.

For children aged 10-12 years old, the recommended maximum caffeine intake level is 85mg/day (less for younger children).

In Canada, the caffeine concentrations in energy drinks are limited to 400 mg/L; or a maximum of 180 mg per single-serve container (containing less than 750 mL).

In comparison, a 237 mL cup of brewed coffee provides an average of 135 mg of caffeine.

The permitted caffeine concentrations in energy drinks differ widely worldwide, with some energy drinks in the US containing up to 344 mg of caffeine per 473 mL can.

Source: Health Canada / CPS

Existing marketing codes

The Canadian Beverage Association has responded by highlighting the different composition and functionality of sports and energy drinks, saying that they should not be a combined focus in the recommendations.

“Sports drinks are functional beverages that help people hydrate before, during and after vigorous exercise. They can provide nutrients and quickly replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during physical activity or exposure to high temperatures.

Canadian Beverage Association

The Canadian Beverage Association, whose members include Red Bull Canada, Monster Energy, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, represents companies that manufacture and distribute the majority of non-alcoholic beverages consumed in Canada. 

“They are not intended to replace water as a source of hydration but are complementary to the water that many athletes drink as well. There are lower-calorie sports drinks options available.”

Energy drinks, in contrast, are functional beverages that are formulated for additional mental and physical stimulation over a short period of time.  

“Canada's energy drink companies are committed to responsibly manufacturing, marketing, and labelling energy drinks in full accordance with Health Canada's requirements,” ​says the association.

“A strict regulatory environment is already in place in Canada regarding the manufacturing and sales of these beverages.”

Meanwhile, the Energy Drink Marketing Code prohibits the sale of energy drinks in K-12 [primary and secondary] schools in Canada and the marketing of energy drinks as beverages intended for rehydration.

In 2006 the beverage industry in Canada voluntarily removed all  ​full-calorie soft drinks from schools across the country

“Our members are committed to providing only water, 100% juice and milk to elementary and middle schools, while offering high school students additional lower-calorie, smaller-portion beverage options,” ​says the association.

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