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More Time on Screens Means More Soda, Sports Drinks for Teens

Health + Wellness
Hill Street Studios / DigitalVision / Getty Images

By Shawn Radcliffec

  • Overall, children and teens are drinking less soda and energy drinks. But those who spend more time looking at screens consume more sugar and caffeine.
  • Drinking sugary or caffeinated beverages can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health issues.
  • Researchers examined the habits of 32,000 students for the study.
  • Overall, they found consumption of soda and energy drinks is down among teens.

Children and teens who spend more time watching TV or using electronic devices drink more soda and energy drinks, shows new research.


This increased consumption of sugar and caffeine puts young people at risk of obesity, diabetes, poor sleep and other health problems, say researchers.

In the study, researchers examined the responses of over 32,000 students in grades 8 and 10 to the Monitoring the Future survey for the years 2013 through 2016. The new studyTrusted Source was published October 22 in the journal PLoS ONE.

"Kids who are spending time in front of electronic devices are consuming more sugar-sweetened beverages and more caffeinated beverages than kids who are not focused on their screens," said Dr. David Fagan, vice chair of pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, who was not involved in the research.

Screen Time Linked to Sugar and Caffeine Intake

Researchers found that in 2016, more than 27 percent of students obtained more than 10 percent of their calories from added sugars in soda or energy drinks. In addition, 21 percent of students exceeded the recommended caffeine intake due to these beverages alone.

Greater use of electronic devices — except computer use for school — was also linked to higher consumption of both sugar and caffeine.

Television had the biggest impact. For each additional hour per day of TV, students were 32 percent more likely to exceed the recommended sugar intake and 28 percent more likely to exceed the recommended caffeine take.

Mobile phone and social media use had similar, but smaller, effects on caffeine and sugar intake. Video gaming also had a smaller effect on sugar intake.

But to the researchers' surprise, video gaming had little impact on caffeine consumption.

"Given the marketing campaigns that target video gamers, we expected a particularly strong association between caffeine intake from energy drinks or sodas with video game use, but TV was linked more strongly," said study author Dr. Katherine Morrison, a professor of pediatrics from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in a news release.

This finding also contrasts with earlier research showing that video gaming is linked to greater consumption of energy drinks by youth.

The researchers write that this may be because video gaming requires the use of one or both hands, which limits eating and drinking. Watching TV, though, can be a hands-free activity. Children and teens watching TV are also exposed to many ads for sodas and energy drinks.

Screen Time and Distracted Eating

Beverages like soda, energy drinks and juice can have a big impact on health because they provide easily-consumed calories.

"We have known for a while that for both adults and children, consumption of sugar containing and artificially sweetened beverages is associated with obesity and other adverse health outcomes, such as diabetes," said Dr. Beth Natt, director of pediatric hospital medicine at Connecticut Children's and a pediatric hospitalist at Danbury Hospital and Norwalk Hospital.

Some research shows that even artificially sweetened beverages are linked to some of the same chronic diseases tied to sugar intake, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

High intakes of caffeine — found in both sodas and energy drinks — can also have negative health effects, including difficulty sleeping, headaches, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and other symptoms.

If you combine soda or energy drinks with screen time, you can get an even more powerful effect.

"It's this whole concept of distracted eating," said Fagan. "When you're involved with an electronic device — be it a TV, a video game, or a tablet — you really aren't paying attention or focusing on what foods or drinks you're putting in your mouth."

Although some parents might be happy getting rid of their child's electronic devices altogether, that's probably a tough sell.

"These devices are not going away. This is the way the world is in the 21st century," said Fagan. "But children and teens need to be mindful of what foods and drinks they're putting in their mouth while they're using these devices."

Natt recommends that when young people are on their screens, they consume a healthier option like water or unsweetened seltzer water.

Healthier Habits on the Rise?

There was some good news in the study. The researchers found that the average student intake of energy drinks and soda declined for both males and females during the study period.

Natt said this trend is "encouraging."

"Hopefully this is an indication that both adults and teens are getting the message about the importance of drinking healthy beverages to maintain a healthy body," said Natt, who was not involved in the study.

She also suggests that parents encourage their children to participate in regular physical activity to offset the sedentary screen time.

This fits with what Fagan calls the 5-2-1-0 rule for encouraging healthy habits in children:

  • 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
  • 2 hours of screen time or less per day
  • 1 hour or more of physical activity per day
  • 0 sugar-sweetened beverages per day

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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