Teens Believe Sugary Sports Drinks and Flavored Beverages Are Healthy

October 21, 2010

Teenagers aren't known for their healthy eating habits, but here's a misconception that's especially alarming: Many active, health-conscious teenagers mistakenly believe sports drinks and flavored drinks (for example, punches and artificially-flavored fruit drinks) are good for them, despite the high levels of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup in these popular beverages.

Researchers from the University of Texas School of Public Health surveyed the consumption habits of over 15,000 students in eighth- and eleventh-grade classes in Texas. They also gathered information about physical activity, sedentary habits, gender, race and other factors.

The study revealed that students consume plenty of sugary drinks, including carbonated sodas as well as flavored and sports drinks—roughly 80 percent drank at least one sugary drink a day, and 28% of the students reported drinking three or more of these beverages a day.

Consuming sugary drinks was associated with eating more fatty foods such as hamburgers, French fries and desserts, as well as with spending more time on sedentary activities such as watching television and playing video games.

However, levels of physical activity increased with the amount of flavored and sports drinks consumed, and decreased with the amount of soda consumed. Boys and girls who drank more sports drinks also consumed more healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables and milk.

The reason may be the false perception that flavored and sports drinks are healthier than sodas, despite their equally high sugar content. "The most likely explanation for these findings is that [flavored and sports drinks] have been successfully marketed as beverages consistent with a healthy lifestyle, to set them apart from sodas," the researchers wrote in their study, published in the journal Pediatrics. "Often, these beverages contain a minimal percentage of fruit juice or, more commonly, contain artificial fruit flavors, which conveys the impression that the drink is more healthful than it actually is."

The study's authors also noted that the consumption of just one sugary drink a day could result in a gain of 15 pounds over the course of a year; this is especially alarming given the percentage of students who drink three or more each day. Teens who are concerned about weight gain may want to take stock of the total number of high-sugar drinks that get consumed each day, and remember that a drink with an athlete's photo on the label isn't necessarily a healthy drink.

Source: Ranjit, et al. "Dietary and Activity Correlates of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among Adolescents." Pediatrics, published online Sept 27, 2010. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-1229.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 21 Oct 2010

Last Modified: 04 Dec 2014