What Parents Should Know About Energy Drinks

By Mary Ann Russo, MS, RD, CDN, Pediatric Nutritionist

New research has found that kids are big consumers of energy drinks.   Adolescents and young adults represent 30-50% of the rapidly growing billion-dollar market.  The energy market is also not confined to beverages.  Products such as Cracker Jacks, jelly beans, gummy bears, brownies, mints, and maple syrup are just a few products being promoted as “energy boost” products.  The growing popularity of energy drinks and some recent adverse effects have parents and medical professional concerned about children’s intake of caffeine.

What is in energy drinks that could cause concern?

Most energy drinks claim their boost of energy from caffeine or vitamins and herbs. The caffeine content can vary and most products do not list it on the nutrition fact label.

Why is caffeine not listed?  

Energy drinks are regulated as dietary supplements, a designation that means the product label does not have to list caffeine content.  Also, there are no limits to how much caffeine they can contain.   Some products have up to 240 mg of caffeine per serving and some packages contain more than one serving.  This is in stark contrast to the FDA rule that a 12 ounce soda cannot contain more than 71 mg of caffeine!

Why the concern over caffeine?

The AmericanAcademyof Pediatrics (AAP) recommends adolescents get no more than 100 mg of caffeine a day and that younger children should not consume caffeinated beverages on a regular basis.   Health professionals have become more cautious due to the increasing number of health problems tied to caffeine intake of young children. Health issues that can occur with intake of caffeine are nervousness, irritability, insomnia, rapid heartbeat, and increased blood pressure.

Children and adolescents are more susceptible to the adverse health effects of caffeine compared to adults. This may be because they are not used to regular caffeine consumption.  The first time a kid buys an energy drink that contains 300 mg of caffeine and drinks it, his/her body won’t be used to it.  Remember…caffeine is a stimulant!

Other experts add that energy drinks may be harmful if they replace drinks like water and milk that contain minerals and proteins for growing bodies.  Energy drinks also provide non-nutritious calories that could contribute to obesity.

The beverage industry’s response to these concerns is that caffeine is one of the thoroughly tested ingredients in the food supply and has been deemed safe by the US FDA.  They state most energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of Coffee House coffee. 

If your child is having problems sleeping or has become more anxious, investigate what they are drinking and eating. If you find out they are utilizing these products for an energy boost, educate them on the negative side effects of excessive caffeine. Discuss healthier options for an energy boost such as getting adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and daily physical activity.

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