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​Dentists call time on sports drinks marketing and urge levy extension

23 June 2017

The British Dental Association has urged action on new research showing nearly 90% of school children are consuming sports drinks, pressing government to combat cynical marketing ploys by manufacturers and bring the drinks within the orbit of the soft drinks industry levy.

New evidence published by academics at Cardiff University and Cardiff Metropolitan University in the British Dental Journal today has revealed nearly 90% of 12-14 year olds are consuming the high-sugar acidic drinks – despite being aware of the negative effects on general and dental health.

The study has concluded that children are drawn to these drinks by their branding. The children incorrectly believed that the drinks were being marketed at everybody, including their age group, despite these drinks only being intended for adults taking part in elite sport.

The study reveals that:

  • 89% of school children are consuming sports drinks, with 68% drinking them regularly (1-7 times per week) despite the fact that only 17% think sports drinks are the 'best' option when undertaking exercise.
  • 73% of children correctly identified water, and only 9% milk, as suitable to be consumed when exercising.
  • 45.9% of the children surveyed believed that sports drinks were aimed at everyone, irrespective of age or activity level, whilst a further third of children viewed teenagers as the target market.
  • The main brand logos (Lucozade Sport, Powerade and Gatorade) were well recognised by over 60% of the children surveyed. Those that recognised the brands were more likely to drink them.
  • 65% of the children acknowledged sports drinks could lead to tooth decay, 49% that they may erode teeth, 48% that they may stain teeth.

Tooth decay is the leading cause of hospital admissions among young children in Britain. 

Dentists have called for energy drinks to be covered by the sugar levy, and for restrictions to be placed on both marketing and display. In supermarkets sports drinks are sold alongside regular soft drinks, giving the misleading impression they are for general use.

Sports drinks – containing carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavourings – are designed to replace fluid, sugars and electrolytes lost during exercise and sweating. They are typically acidic and often high in sugar, meaning that they risk causing enamel erosion and tooth decay, respectively. These drinks were originally developed to be consumed by athletes and people undertaking very intense or extended periods of exercise.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said

"Sports drinks offer no health benefits to children, and are helping fuel an epidemic of tooth decay.

"It's no accident that we are seeing such high levels of consumption among children. Cynical marketing is driving demand, and it is time government drew a line.

"Big business is getting away with targeting children with products designed for athletes. High in both sugars and acids, these are not everyday drinks. And if they are going to be displayed alongside colas, they should be subject to the same taxes.

"Water remains the drink of choice when undertaking moderate exercise, and is the safest option for both oral and general health."

The study – Knowledge of and attitudes to sports drinks of adolescents living in South Wales, UK  – is published in the British Dental Journal.

About the BDA

The British Dental Association (BDA) is the voice of dentists and dental students in the UK. We bring dentists together, support our members through advice and education, and represent their interests. As a trade union and professional body, we represent all fields of dentistry including general practice, community dental services, the armed forces, hospitals, academia, public health and research. We are owned and run by our members and all our income is reinvested for the benefit of the profession.

You can also follow news from the BDA on Twitter. Membership packages reflect the varied needs of dentists.