Busy schedules often also mean tired over-achievers! As adults, many of us reach for a strong coffee before we even have time to open our eyes and greet the new day. For years, we have heard the health risks of digesting too much caffeine, but in today’s energy starved environment, there has been an increase in energy drinks and their consumption by not just adults, but children, too.
The Federal Drug Administration as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics is also taking notice. There’s been an insurgence of energy drinks that are supposed to increase attention spans, reaction time and performance. Many of the energy drinks that you may now see on the grocery store shelves are using bright colors and cool names to attract the attention of young people.
The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses that these energy drinks also have large doses of caffeine and sugar. One report on the aap.org page said that most “have a caffeine equivalent of three cups of coffee and as much as 14 teaspoons of sugar.” Other ingredients, Guarana and taurine, are derivatives of caffeine and are often found in the drinks, claiming to “enhance performance”. Most importantly, many of the ingredients in these drinks have not been tested in children and no one can guarantee their safety.
A report written by a Dr. Steven Lipshultz, Pediatric Chairman at the University of Miami Medical School, discourages any routine use of energy drinks by children and teens. His report indicated that energy drinks “often contain ingredients that can enhance the jittery effects of caffeine or can have other side effects including nausea and diarrhea.” Lipshultz believes they should be regulated as strictly as tobacco, alcohol, and prescription medications. Because safe levels of consumption have not been established for most children and young adults, it’s a worrisome trend that needs to be addressed if you have a young person at home.
High school sports athletes, for example, are using the energy drinks because they want to obtain an “edge” when competing. Does a drink really “give you wings?” Of course not! Some of the side effects energy drinks have been known to produce include seizures, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, chest pain, high blood pressure and irritability. The American Association of Poison Control Centers even adopted codes in 2010 to track energy drink overdoses and side effects. Most cases, unfortunately, are cases involving children and teens.
What Can Parents Do?
Because research is ongoing on the connection between young people and illness caused by energy drinks, it’s best to stay informed as new research becomes available. Most importantly, make sure you talk to your child and ask questions about what they may be drinking to quench their thirst when you’re not around. There is absolutely NO nutritional benefit to drinking energy drinks, and no real proof that they can enhance performance. If your child has an underlying medical condition, too much caffeine can also be seriously problematic.
By talking to your children about the side effects of energy drinks and risks associated with them, you are taking the right first step. Making your family aware that there are risks involved is just as important as offering your child healthier alternatives to caffeine when they are thirsty, like water or milk. Make sure your children are getting their nutrients and calories from the delicious foods they eat, not from a canned beverage.
Dr. Kellow and Dr. Shaw are happy to discuss nutritional concerns about energy drinks and answer any questions that you may have about caffeine intake in children. Our number is 618-235-2111 and you can also learn more about our team by visiting our website. You can also visit the American Academy of Pediatrics page on energy drinks, offering helpful links and additional information.