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Health blog

Energy Drinks: Not for Children and Teens

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in February about the danger that high energy drinks pose to children and teens (viewable in its entirety at: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/peds.2009-3592v1). These drinks are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. beverage industry, topping $9 billion annually in sales. Between 30% and 50% of young people admit to consuming energy drinks, and marketing is often directed at this population.

So what’s wrong with a little caffeine pick-me-up? A standard eight ounce cup of coffee contains between 100 and 200 milligrams of caffeine, with colas and soft drinks having about half that amount. Energy drinks typically contain a large amount of caffeine. The energy drink NOS has about 260 mg of caffeine while a drink called 5150 Juice has 500 mg. The Food and Drug Administration requires beverage makers to put the caffeine content on labels, and manufacturers are compliant.

However, caffeine is not the only stimulant in energy drinks. They also contain various herbal additives such as guarana, taurine, ginseng, gingko, kola nut, and yerba mate. The FDA does not require the caffeine or stimulant properties of these additives to be on labels. According to the AAP, this means the actual amount of caffeine or stimulant in an energy drink is unknown. The additives may also interact with each other in unexpected ways that make the drink potentially more hazardous than if it only contained caffeine.

When consumed by children, teens, and young adults, these products have caused seizures, heart problems, stroke, high blood pressure, behavioral issues, and even sudden death. The high sugar content may worsen diabetes, and the caffeine and additives may interfere with prescription medications. The AAP report cites one case where four middle grade students shared one can of Redline energy drink and had to be transported to the emergency room with heart problems, low potassium, and high blood sugar.

The AAP concludes that energy drinks have no benefit to children and may put young consumers at risk for serious health problems. Some countries have limited or regulated the sale of energy drinks to young people. Does all this mean that your teen can’t have any caffeine? The AAP recommends caffeine intake for adolescents and children should not exceed 100 mg per day. That equates to one cola or one small coffee per day. Every parent should judge whether even a small amount of caffeine is appropriate for their child.
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