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Sports drinks linked to teen obesity

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
sports drinks, sodas, calories, sugar, weight gain, obesity, teens

An obesity epidemic is ongoing in the US, which is affecting all age groups from infants through seniors. It is well known that sugary drinks are responsible for extra poundage. Now, a new study has linked sports drinks to weight gain in teens. The findings were presented at Obesity 2012:

The Obesity Society 30th Annual Scientific Meeting. The event ran from September 20 through September 24 at the San Antonio Convention Center (San Antonio, Texas).

The investigators noted that currently, the sales of sports drinks are rising while the sales of sodas are waning. They accessed data on almost 11,000 children of participants in the Nurses' Health Study II. Children aged 9 to 15 years were tracked over time by Alison Field, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues. The investigators found that at the end of each two-year interval of the study, the subjects had gained almost 2.0 pounds for each can of soda they drank every day. If they drank two sodas a day, they gained 4.0 pounds over each two-year interval. The most significant finding of the study was that the teens gained an average of 3.5 pounds for every sports drink consumed per day. The authors note that, prior to their study this was an unknown consequence of drinking the calorie-laden beverages.

The study was initiated almost a decade ago, in 2004. Since the study began, consumption of sodas went down slightly among the children, which mirrored the national trend; however, consumption of sports drinks, particularly among boys, increased significantly; the researchers note that this also mirrored the national trend.

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Sports drinks are labeled as having 50 calories per serving; however, each bottle contains multiple servings; thus, the true caloric content of consuming a sports drink is obscured. For example, a quart bottle contains four servings. A 20 ounce bottle contains 130 calories and a 32 ounce bottle contains 200 calories. Sodas are commonly marketed in small containers; a 12 ounce can or bottle typically contains 120 calories. Since a beverage is often consumed in its entirety after opening, the sports drinks deliver more calories.

Limitations of the study were that the information was self-reported and the study group contained few ethnic minorities. In addition, it did not include many teens from the low socioeconomic strata.

Take home message:
Many assume that the label “sports drink” signifies that the beverage is a health alternative to a can of soda; however, they are not. Sports drinks are designed to supply calories to individuals engaged in strenuous physical activities, such as long distance running, cycling, or active competitive sports. They are not suitable for a teen who is seated in a chair playing a video game or watching TV.

Reference: Obesity 2012: The Obesity Society 30th Annual Scientific Meeting

See also:
Chemical BPA in food linked to childhood obesity
CDC releases sad statistics regarding obesity in the US
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