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Pediatricians warn parents about energy, sports drinks for kids

Despite heavy advertising of sports and energy drinks to kids, their consumption by youths is not a good idea, according to research published in Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Most kids don't need the sports drinks unless they've involved in grueling exercise with lots of sweating. And the boatload of caffeine in so-called energy drinks can make them a dangerous choice for young bodies, the report says.

According to report co-author Dr. Holly J. Benjamin, a member of the executive committee of the academy's Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, "Sports drinks, which contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavoring, are intended to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. Sports drinks can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities, but in most cases they are unnecessary on the sports field or the school lunchroom."

The exception is when youths are engaged in intense and prolonged exercises.

Benjamin, who is a University of Chicago associate professor of pediatrics, and her colleagues, all pediatric specialists, recommend that children drink water to rehydrate after routine physical activity. They avoid the extra calories found in such sport drinks as Gatorade and Powerade, which can contribute to unwanted weight gain. And they noted that water won't cause cavities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that obesity in children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 rose in the United States to almost 17 percent in 2007-08 from 5 percent in 1971-74. And health risks to children who are overweight or obese has become a growing concern among health experts.

The report says that energy drinks (among popular names are RockStar, Red Bull and AMP) contain stimulants such as caffeine, guarana and taurine. Caffeine has "been linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems," the pediatricians said in a release announcing the report. "Energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents."

Included in that category is caffeinated soda, which the pediatricians singled out as not a good idea for kids.

Dr. Marci Schneider, a member of the AAP nutrition committee and lead author of the report, noted that some energy drinks can have more than 500 milligrams of caffeine, roughly what you'd find in 14 cans of soda.

The report does not take a position against use of sports drinks when a young person engages "regularly in endurance or high-intensity sports and vigorous physical activity." That, it notes, is "beyond the scope of this report.

Energy drinks "are not intended for young consumers," said Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Sports drinks have a long history of scientific research showing their benefits for hydration. As with all food and beverages, they should be consumed in moderation."

The report counsels pediatricians to address the issue of inappropriate use of the drinks with parents and young patients when they see them for health visits. That's a good time, too, it says, to discuss the difference between the two types of drinks.

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