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Kids have no need for sports drinks

Sports drinks are a common sight on the sidelines of children’s sport but a researcher says they’re full of empty calories and not needed by kids for extra energy or rehydration.

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University of Otago researchers gave disposable cameras to 82 children aged 10-12 from netball, rugby and football clubs in the Wellington region. The children were asked to photograph food and drinks they saw at their games over two weeks.

Lead researcher Moira Smith said healthy options such as water and plain milk were photographed, but many drinks were sugar-laden and some contained caffeine.

“By drinking these drinks, children are consuming empty calories and potentially creating cavities,” Dr Smith said.

In their notes, children said the unhealthy drinks were part of their sport-related diet, were often promoted for sport, and were available at their games.

“The marketing of Coca-Cola and Powerade at the recent FIFA World Cup is a strong illustration of the paradox that exists between food, drink and sport worldwide,” Dr Smith said.

Some children indicated they consumed the drinks regularly when playing sport and most children preferred them.

“Children who play Saturday morning sport do not need sports drinks for extra energy or rehydration. These are only needed by athletes playing high level or elite sport,” Dr Smith said.

She said ideal solutions would include promoting tap water as a free and accessible choice for sport.

“Other strategies including healthy eating and drinking programmes in sports clubs, and nutrition education and dietary advice for children, parents and coaches would also be beneficial - particularly about the energy intake and hydration requirements for children who play organised sports.”

Dr Smith also advocated taxing and regulating the marketing of sugary beverages, a move that Consumer NZ supports.

A third of New Zealand children are overweight or obese and tooth decay is one of the top reasons Kiwi kids are hospitalised.

According to Ministry of guidelines, children should limit their consumption of sugary drinks to less than one glass a week and children under 13 should not drink caffeinated drinks.

See our report for more information on how much sugar we're really consuming.

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