Energy drinks can give us that extra boost to get through the day at work, school, or even during our workout. We’re not just talking about coffee, tea, soda or sports drinks, but beverages that have additional caffeine and other stimulants, AKA energy drinks. Energy drinks are commonly marketed to children and young adults to enhance sports performance, delay fatigue and increase alertness. But what are the risks involved with our kids drinking these beverages? In 2018, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) released a paper to define energy drinks, how they affect sports performance, and the dangers of our kids drinking them.
Defining Energy Drinks
Sports drinks and energy drinks are not the same. Sports drinks can contain carbohydrates (sugars) for energy, plus electrolytes, and added vitamins. Sports drinks should not replace water or milk, but can help prevent dehydration when exercising in the heat longer than an hour. Energy drinks, on the other hand, contain stimulants such as caffeine and guarana (another type of caffeine) and other ingredients such as sugars, B vitamins, ginseng, proprietary blends and amino acids.
Effects of Caffeine
Caffeine is the greatest health risk in energy drinks, which are commonly marketed to children and teens. Caffeine is known to enhance sports performance by reducing fatigue and improving reaction time, however the negative effects include increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and sleep disturbances. It can also increase anxiety in those with anxiety disorders and trigger an irregular heart rhythm.
Harmful Doses of Caffeine
Young children are at greater risk of harmful effects of caffeine since they weigh less. The threshold of caffeine toxicity in adults is about 400 mg of caffeine/day; whereas in a healthy adolescent (12-18 years) the threshold is 100 mg/day. For example, 16 ounces (2 cups) of an energy drink or coffee can contain up to 200 mg of caffeine. This amount may not be harmful in a healthy adult, but taking in any larger amounts can be dangerous in children and teens. Caffeine amounts may vary in energy drinks. Doses exceeding 500 mg may result in caffeine toxicity in children and young adults.
Take Home Message
The ACSM, as well as other professional and educational organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Health Canada, and the National Federation of State High School Associations, recommend the following:
1. Children and adolescents should not consume energy drinks. Other groups who should avoid caffeine include individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding, caffeine sensitive, taking stimulant or caffeine containing medications, or with cardiovascular or medical conditions.
2. Regulatory actions are needed. Warning labels identifying the caffeine amount should be listed on energy drinks to help consumers make informed choices and understand the risks involved.
3. Energy drinks should not be marketed to children and teens.
4. Education delivered by health care providers, athletic trainers, and nutritionists about energy drink risks should be a priority at schools and universities.
The dangerous health risks of energy drinks are clear and should not be offered to children and adolescents. Energy drinks have not been extensively studied, especially long-term, and the risks of caffeine toxicity outweigh the perks of feeling more “energized”.