Why Energy Drinks Are Harming Children, Adolescents

Children and teens who consume energy drinks could experience seizures, heart palpitations, or other problems that drive them to the hospital emergency room. Children most at risk appear to be those who regularly consume the increasingly popular caffeine-laden energy drinks or gulp down a relatively large amount of the liquid in a short span, according to Rutgers University’s poison control experts.

“These drinks are made for adults. When young children drink them, they consume a large quantity of caffeine for their body mass. At the minimum, they become wired—just as an adult would—and it might be difficult for parents to console them or calm them down,” says Bruce Ruck, PharmD, director of drug information and professional education for the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System (NJPIES) at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark. “Children also might have trouble falling asleep or experience tremors, anxiety, agitation, heart palpitations, nausea, or vomiting. Of more concern, they may experience a rapid heart rate or seizures.

“Parents need to be aware of the risks and treat these drinks as they would a medication. Store them on a high shelf, away from view. If they have teenagers, they should monitor their exposure,” Ruck adds.

Energy drinks also pose hazards to adolescents, especially when mixed with alcohol or punishing workouts. Steven Marcus, the executive and medical director of NPIES, emphasizes that teens and young adults are inherently risk takers. And those who are physically active face extra risk this time of year. “This is when high school and collegiate athletes start their ramp up,” says Marcus. “The use of energy drinks coupled with strenuous exercise in hot weather can produce a potentially fatal situation.”

Brightly designed packaging appears to be one reason younger children are attracted to energy drinks. Some of the colorful containers resemble soda cans, others fit in the palm of your hand. The small containers may allow younger children to mistake the energy beverages for the drinks they typically consume. Some teens and even young adults are finding themselves in an emergency room after regularly consuming these popular beverages.

A recent issue of Clinical Toxicology reported that children under age 6 who consumed caffeine-infused energy drinks accounted for more than one-half of the energy drink-related toxicity cases involving child illnesses that have been reported to the US National Poison Data System.

This startling statistic was disclosed on the heels of the American Medical Association’s call for a ban on the marketing of energy drinks to children under 18 pending more scientific studies. The concern? The ease with which children can access these highly caffeinated beverages, which could lead to various health problems and even death.

Individuals most at risk appear to be those who consume these drinks on a regular basis—and that’s up to 50% of adolescents and young adults, according to a recent report in Pediatrics. Caffeine levels in drinks such as Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar range from about 6 to 242 mg per serving, and some containers have more than one serving. By comparison, an 8-oz cup of coffee has about 100 mg.

Sales of energy drinks, which entered the American market in the mid-1980s, soared to $12.5 billion last year and show no signs of slowing. NJPIES has embarked on a public education campaign in traditional and social media to urge caution when consuming these drinks. The state’s only poison control center, NJPIES provides information on poison prevention and treatments, including free consultation, through its toll-free, 24/7 hotline.

Ruck also explained that, in addition to large amounts of caffeine, most energy drinks contain sweeteners, vitamins, and maybe herbal products, some of which may hold hidden risks for certain individuals.“As one example, the FDA issued a warning his year against use of DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine) in energy drinks and supplements,” Ruck notes. “DMAA is essentially an amphetamine-like compound, known in higher doses to elevate blood pressure.”

Source: Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences