I was giving a talk to a group of fifth graders regarding mental health issues when one young man raised his hand to ask a question. His question caught me a little off guard as he asked me about using energy drinks.
Out of curiosity, I asked the group of 100 students to raise their hand if they drank these drinks. To my amazement, most hands went up!!! I then asked them where they got the drinks and they responded that their parents bought them for them. These children opened my eyes to a real problem.
Many children and teens today are choosing energy drinks as a part of their daily diet. And while some energy drinks are clearly labeled as unsuitable for children, others are specifically marketed to kids as young as four, promising boosts in energy and nutrition as well as enhanced athletic performance.
The problem is that this energy boost comes with a price. Most energy drinks, although packaged in smaller cans and bottles than regular soft drinks, are packed with sugar and caffeine — sometimes as much caffeine as in 1 to 3 cups of coffee! Too much sugar can put your child in the fast lane to the dentist's office and also contribute to weight gain. Excessive caffeine comes with its own set of problems — especially in younger kids, it can negatively affect attention and concentration as well as restful sleep.
As adults, we know how it feels to have too much caffeine and our children are no exception. Caffeine by design is a stimulant — though a widely used and accepted one — and because children are smaller than adults and haven't yet developed a tolerance to it, its effects on them may be more pronounced. As in adults, too much caffeine can cause:
• jitteriness and nervousness
• upset stomach
• difficulty concentrating
• difficulty sleeping
• frequent urination
Many of these drinks also contain additional ingredients whose safety or effectiveness has never been tested in children — including herbal supplements, guarana (a source of caffeine), and taurine (an amino acid thought to enhance performance). Children and teens may ingest these drinks without realizing the potential danger. Even mild caffeine toxicity can cause nausea, vomiting hypertension, accelerated heart rate and tremors. Because the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate these drinks it is not possible to know the exact quantities, ingredients or effects they may cause.
Despite all the hype, energy drinks offer no real health benefits or competitive edge for kids. A balanced diet, physical activity and adequate sleep will work to give our children all the energy they need, safely.