April 2013

Energy Drinks: Not a Good Choice for Children

They're labeled with compelling names, such as Monster Energy and Rockstar. X-Game athletes sport their brands on jackets and hats. Energy drinks exude an ethos that attracts many children and young adults. Although these beverages may be considered cool, they're not a healthy choice for your child.

Close-up photo of 3 cans of energy drink

Caffeine-boosted beverages

Surging in popularity, energy drinks are often confused with sports drinks, such as Gatorade. Unlike sports drinks, though, energy drinks don't replenish lost fluids. Instead, they stimulate the body with substances like caffeine, sugar, and guarana - a plant that contains high levels of caffeine. Their marketing ploy: to boost energy quickly.

Loaded with stimulants, these beverages deliver. So much so that emergency room visits related to energy drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011. The American Association of Poison Control Centers also logged more than 3,100 calls for energy drinks in 2012. Nearly 60 percent of those reports were for children 18 and younger.

Energy drinks provide more than a mild pick-me-up. They can contain more than five times the amount of caffeine as an 8-ounce serving of regular soda. For instance, a 16-ounce can of Monster Energy contains 160 mg of caffeine versus 35 mg in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola. Added ingredients like guarana compound the caffeine effect.

Concerns for parents

In moderate amounts, caffeine usually isn't harmful. But too much of this stimulant-as found in some energy drinks-can cause health problems, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Nervousness and tremors

  • Headaches

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Dehydration

  • High blood pressure

  • Sleeping problems

Energy drinks, in particular, have been linked to stroke and sudden cardiac death. Mixed with alcohol, they can be especially harmful. Children with existing health problems - such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or seizures - may be more at risk for a caffeine overdose.

Experts recommend that parents limit their children's intake of caffeine to less than 100 mg daily, about the amount of caffeine in a regular cup of coffee. That can be hard to achieve if your child chooses to have even just one energy drink. These beverages are often marketed as dietary supplements, so manufacturers don't have to list total caffeine content on their packaging. To be safe, the American Academy of Pediatricians advises that children avoid energy drinks altogether.

Other parental concerns: Energy drinks provide few nutrients and lots of calories. Like soft drinks, they can contribute to weight gain. Plus, they can damage children's teeth, breaking down enamel.

How do you get your kids to eat better? Here are some ideas. 

Better Beverage Choices for Your Child

Watching what your child eats is important. But don't stop there. What they drink matters, too. Gulping down lots of sugar-filled beverages - such as soda, fruit drinks, and energy drinks - can add unwanted pounds.

The best beverage choice for your child? Water. It has no calories and keeps your child well hydrated. Another good option is fat-free or low-fat milk. Also offer up 100-percent fruit juice, but don't let your child overindulge. Although fruit juice provides many nutrients, it can be high in calories.

When shopping for family-friendly drink options, check the nutrition label. Choose products that are low in sugar, fat, and caffeine. To encourage moderation, buy the smallest-packaged versions of beverages.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

American Academy of Pediatricians - Nutrition

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases - Healthy Eating and Physical Activity across Your Lifespan: Helping Your Child (Tips for Parents)

 

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