Parents who’ve won the household health war against soft drinks, teaching their teenagers to opt for alternative beverages, may have another battle on their hands. But this time, it’s with energy drinks.
A University of Sydney study involving over 3,600 year six, eight and 10 students has shown that energy drinks are more strongly linked to dental problems than traditional soft drinks.
The researchers found that energy drinks were the most popular sweetened beverage among Aussie teens, with 20 per cent of adolescents reportedly knocking back at least one cup a day.
The study also showed that frequent toothache was more common among the 50 per cent of teens who drank one cup or more of a sweetened beverage.
“The clear association between oral health problems and diet and new generation soft drinks, such as energy, sports drinks and flavoured waters is a real concern as these beverages are marketed as a beverage of choice for adolescents," says Dr Louise Hardy from the Sydney School of Public Health and Charles Perkins Centre.
“Bad teeth can have significant and lasting social and health impacts. It can cause considerable pain and suffering, and by changing what people eat alter their speech and quality of life.”
The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, also shows one-in-seven teens is drinking more than two cups of sugary drinks a day. In doing so, they are two-to-three times more likely to have oral health problems than those who do not drink sweetened beverages.
“Bad teeth can have significant and lasting social and health impacts."
Energy drinks were more consistently linked to being overweight or obese compared to traditional soft drinks.
The study also noted that all types of sugar-sweetened beverages, with the exception of fruit juice, were associated with frequent toothache or food avoidance.
“Consuming two cups [of sugar-sweetened drinks] a day is roughly equal to 11 teaspoons of sugar, which is well in excess of the World Health Organizations’ guidelines for sugar intake without even looking at food consumption.
“We need strategies to reduce adolescent’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, not only due to weight implications, but also because of oral health."
It's not just about the sugar
Many teens, and possibly even parents, may view energy drinks as a healthy alternative to soft drinks even though they are quite the opposite when consumed by an adolescent.
Nutritionist at Nutritional Matters, Angela Emmerton, tells SBS that the problem is not just sugar, it's the fact that energy drinks contain caffeine.
"A young body and brain is not designed [to consume] this amount of caffeine," says Emmerton.
Research indicates that energy drinks might interfere with a teenager's brain development if they consume too much. Meanwhile, a Canadian study released in 2015 shows that teens who drink energy drinks a lot are more likely to get head injuries than those who don't consume the highly caffeinated beverages.
"Why do teens even need them? Energy drinks have no nutrients in them. They can get all the energy they need from a good diet."
Emmerton advises teenagers to follow a low sugar diet that is high in vegetables and wholefoods, and absent of energy drinks.