Children risk health as sports drinks’ marketing is misunderstood

A new survey conducted by a team from Cardiff University and Cardiff Metropolitan University reveals that a high proportion of 12-14 year olds are consuming high sugar, low pH sports drinks, despite knowledge of their health effects.

Published today in the British Dental Journal, the survey looked at 160 children in four schools across South Wales and concluded that children are using sports drinks attracted by their brand logo. The children believed that these drinks were being marketed at everybody, including their age group, despite these drinks being formulated and proven effective only in adult, elite athletes.

The study shows 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, 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.

In supermarkets and shops, sports drinks are sold alongside other sugar sweetened beverages. This is misleading children and parents by indicating that they are meant for use by everyone – a message that this survey indicates has been taken on board by these young consumers. However, these products are proven only to be effective for use by elite adult athletes.

  • 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.

Generally the children were aware of the possible oral health effects of these products, although this did not deter them from consuming sports drinks:

  • 65% of the children acknowledged sports drinks could lead to tooth decay,
  • 49% that they may erode teeth,
  • 48% that they may stain teeth.

Whilst less than half the children questioned claimed to read the nutritional labels on the product these children were more likely to consume fewer sports drinks.

The study suggests that the dental profession needs to continue to educate children and parents about the dental and wider health implications of sports drinks, including their appropriate use and that the dental profession needs to work with the food industry on more appropriate labelling, marketing and reformulation of these products.

Ruth Fairchild , Registered Nutritionist and senior lecturer in Food Science and Nutrition at Cardiff Metropolitan University, said: “The purpose of sports drinks are being misunderstood and this study clearly shows evidence of high school age children being attracted to these high sugar and low pH level drinks, leading to an increased risk of dental cavities, enamel erosion and obesity.

“There are indications that clearer labelling and encouraging children to read the labels could help reduce the intake of these highly sweetened, palatable drinks.  Sports drinks, like all sugar sweetened beverages can be harmful if consumed in large amounts in terms of oral and wider public health including obesity and other related health conditions”.

Maria Morgan, Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University, said: “Health agencies and lobby groups like the British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry1, Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK2and Action on Sugar3 need to work with the food industry to help reformulate products and ensure that marketing is appropriate”

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

Knowledge of and attitudes to sports drinks of adolescents living in South Wales UK. Br Dent J 2017; 222. RM Fairchild1 BSc (Hons), RNutr, PhD, D Broughton2 BDS (hons), MZ Morgan2 BSc (Hons), PGCE, MPH, MPhil, FFPH. 1Cardiff Metropolitan University, Department of Healthcare and Food. 2Applied Clinical Research and Public Health, College of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Cardiff University, School of Dentistry.



1 BASCD Statement on Free sugars available at:

2 Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK, Position Statement, Oral Health in Sport, October 2014, Professor Ian Needleman

3 More information on the lobbying group Action on Sugar can be found at:

Notes to editors

Cardiff Metropolitan University:

Cardiff Met has an excellent track record with applied research that has a direct application in business, industry and the community.

Applied research and knowledge transfer are widely recognised as key drivers in support of social, cultural and economic development. Cardiff Met’s achievements in these areas have placed the institution at the forefront of developments in these fields.  An example of this is PDR’s maxio-facial surgery.

Cardiff Metropolitan University has a number of research and enterprise centres, including the Food Industry Centre, the Welsh Centre for Tourism Research, and the National Centre for Product Design and Development Research.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) for 2014 saw Cardiff Metropolitan positioned as the top New University in Wales.

All Cardiff Met courses are career-focused and are designed in conjunction with business and industry. Many are affiliated with professional bodies.

Cardiff Met was recognised in The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education last year for the use of design and related 3D digital scanning technologies as applied to maxillofacial reconstructive surgery from PDR, International Centre for Design & Research.

The history of Cardiff Metropolitan University dates back to 1865. Today, the Institution is home to five academic schools across two campuses as well as the National Centre for Product Design and Development Research (PDR)

  • Cardiff School of Art and Design
  • Cardiff School of Education & Social Policy
  • Cardiff School of Health Sciences
  • Cardiff School of Management
  • Cardiff School of Sport

The University will launch a brand new innovative School of Technologies in September 2017, initially delivering programmes on the Llandaff Campus. Discussions regarding a City Centre site for the new School are on-going and it is intended to open the new School on a purpose built site in 2020.

Cardiff University:

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University 5th in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans.  Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff’s flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to pressing global problems.