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Energy, Sports Drinks Aren't So Healthy For Kids

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says caffeine is a no-no for children, so energy drinks should be off limits. Sugary sports beverages are also an issue. The doctors recommend that children drink water instead.

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There's a new report out from the American Academy of Pediatrics saying that children should never drink caffeinated energy drinks. It also says kids need to go easy on sugary sports drinks.

NPR's Nancy Shute reports.

NANCY SHUTE: Go to a baseball or soccer game, and it's pretty much guaranteed that the players will be drinking sports drinks, even if they're 10 years old. The idea that athletes need sports drinks started way back in 1965 with college football, as this ad explains.

(Soundbite of Gatorade advertisement)

Unidentified Man #1: The players weren't adequately hydrated, and their performance suffered.

Unidentified Man #2: The answer: a new carbohydrate electrolyte beverage created by University of Florida doctors.

Unidentified Man #1: Naturally, we called our stuff Gatorade.

SHUTE: Since then, Gatorade has become almost synonymous with sports and with Michael Jordan and other sports stars.

(Soundbite of Gatorade advertisement)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) If I could be Mike. Oh, be like Mike. Like Mike. If I could be like Mike.

SHUTE: Ads like that have made Gatorade so popular that kids are drinking it all day long. Holly Benjamin thinks that's a problem. She's a sports medicine doctor at the University of Chicago and co-author of the new report from the Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. HOLLY BENJAMIN (University of Chicago): Kids will drink a Gatorade after school. They'll drink a Gatorade for lunch. You know, they'll drink a Gatorade with dinner. And sometimes they'll drink lots of Gatorades.

SHUTE: That's a worry, she says, because the main ingredient in most sports drinks is sugar.

Dr. BENJAMIN: Kids are having a hard enough time these days with obesity on the rise to control their calorie intake. And they can't always burn off everything they take in.

SHUTE: So-called energy drinks are another problem. The pediatricians say children and teens should avoid energy drinks and other drinks with caffeine.

Dr. BENJAMIN: There's great concern about what that does over time or in high doses to a young growing body that's not fully mature. It's almost like a stress to your body.

SHUTE: Instead, the pediatricians say kids should be drinking milk, water and maybe a little juice. But they also say that sports drinks do have a legitimate use. So, very active kids actually do need an extra shot of sodium and potassium and an extra jolt of sugar.

Dr. BENJAMIN: That's for my high-level athlete that's exercising intensely, sweating like crazy, going 100 percent effort for more than an hour at a time.

SHUTE: Less than an hour, though, and Benjamin says plain old water works just fine.

Dr. BENJAMIN: Water for the first hour is all you need, no matter if you're running a marathon or playing a football game or soccer.

SHUTE: Or if they only game you're playing is Nintendo.

Nancy Shute, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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