Researchers in the US have pointed to growing consumption of 'nutrition' bars and functional beverages as a risk to health - they say these new foods threaten to leave a generation with permanent damage to oral health and raise the numbers of obese.
With quick meals in the form of cereal bars and carbonated drinks proving popular throughout the Western world, especially for the fast-paced lifestyle of teenagers and young adults, a study in this month's General Dentistry journal warns that these may have long-term effects.
"Premature loss of tooth enamel and weakening of overall tooth structure are two devastating oral affects of teens' poor diet that can not be reversed later in life," explained author Jane Soxman.
Soxman warned that despite the importance of adolescence for bone growth, fizzy drinks and sugary, high-carbohydrate foods are rapidly displacing healthier options such as milk, fruits and vegetables. Many cereal bars, marketed as healthy, often contain large amounts of sugar.
"The easy access of sugary beverages and foods from home to school and everywhere in between has compromised the health of teens' teeth, and helped fuel the national obesity epidemic," added Julie Barna, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.
Dr Soxman's research shows that drinking carbonated beverages seems to be one of the most significant causes of increased cavities and obesity for today's teenagers. And as younger children become addicted to the caffeine and sugar contained in many fizzy drinks, the problems will only increase. Being overweight puts adolescents at significant health risks including increased incidence of hypertension and elevated cholesterol leading to heart disease, type II diabetes and osteoporosis.
The phosphoric, citric, tartaric and/or carbonic acid in fizzy drinks has also now been linked to breaking down the tooth enamel around dental sealants and restorations further compromising dental health.
And the phosphoric acid in most regular and diet cola drinks limits calcium absorption, with a direct influence on bone density, report the researchers. They say that by the age of 16, girls have accumulated 90 to 97 per cent of their bone mass making adequate calcium intake vital, yet statistics in the US and Europe show that many girls are not receiving enough calcium through their diets. Some research has linked soft drink consumption to bone fractures in teenage girls.
"These girls are at an extreme risk for developing osteoporosis, already exhibiting symptoms of this disease in their teen years," said Dr Soxman. "Early education on the importance of calcium consumption is key to reversing this trend."