A large majority of the adult population in the UK don't exercise enough, and at a time when obesity is a real issue, it's an area that we need to focus on.
The other side to obesity is of course diet, and I see a lot of cases – particularly with young people – where they're consuming too many calories and not exercising enough.
I recently did some work with the Natural Hydration Council, which looked at hydration during exercise. We created a fact sheet to advise people on the best ways to hydrate when taking exercise.
Sports drinks clearly have an important role to play and have been designed for highly active sportspeople. Ultimately, they may only be beneficial for those undertaking regular, high-intensity training and performance exercise lasting for more than 45 minutes. For mild to moderate exercise, including swimming, golf and walking, and for any physical activity lasting less than 45 minutes, water will rehydrate adequately.
In the work that I do with overweight teenagers, lifestyle improvements are made by taking small steps. I look closely at their calorie consumption as well as the amount of physical activity they're doing, and try to promote positive change (for instance, encouraging water consumption before, during and after exercise, as it contains no calories or sugar and provides adequate hydration).
I also work with these young people to understand the factors that are important to them so that we can ensure their support is tailored.
As people are becoming more conscious about their weight (approximately 60% of the UK adult population is overweight or obese), we need to help educate and equip them with the skills and strategies to implement a healthier diet and lifestyle.
At the end of this year, a new EU health claim regarding sports drinks comes into effect, which means that products can be marketed without clarifying who their target population is. This ignores the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessment, which concluded that 'the target population for sports drinks are active individuals performing endurance exercise'.
We know that people are already consuming sports drinks at times in the day when they're not actually engaged in any sport. So, given this change, there are three important questions:
- Firstly, how will consumers respond?
- Secondly, will producers of these products change their marketing activities?
- Thirdly, what will be the likely impact on the weight and health of our population?
While there's no evidence yet to answer these questions, this one small change could lead to increased consumption of calories in those that probably don't need more daily calories.
Paul Gately is professor of obesity and exercise at Leeds Metropolitan University.
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