Caffeine and Children
Children, teens consuming more caffeine through ‘energy drinks’
April 3, 2016
By PATRICIA OLDER, Leader Herald
GLOVERSVILLE -With slick advertising campaigns, many regularly featuring high-level athletes promoting their accomplishments and posing with a can of the latest energy drink, children and teens are caught up in the craze and are buying into the marketing they must have it. As a result, more adolescents are consuming large amounts of caffeine, and the consequences, say experts, can be serious.
“The most recent study shows 73 percent of kids are consuming caffeine and those studies are showing kids are now drinking more energy drinks,” said Alexandra Barbieri, registered dietician at Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home. “These studies are showing kids are consuming more energy drinks and these kids are ingesting one to three of these drinks at a time and not drinking enough water.”
Barbieri said that while the effects of caffeine on teens and children has not been studied enough to draw any solid conclusions on the health ramifications, she did cite some studies which show drinking caffeine produces an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and irritability.
“Unfortunately, caffeine has not been studied too much in adolescents, only adults,” said Barbieri. “However, a study I found did show a relationship between students who drank energy drinks resulted in insufficient sleep duration. Caffeine can also cause increased heart rates and elevated blood pressure.”
Continuing, she said energy drinks have between 142 mg. and 240 mg. of caffeine for 16 fluid ounces, with the daily national suggested amount not to exceed 400 mg. One cup of coffee can have between 95 mg to 200 mg. of caffeine.
“[The toxicity] is dose dependent – how it affects one 15-year-old could affect another differently,” said Barbieri. “But caffeine toxicity can come with only two cups of coffee – imagine what these energy drinks can do.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the maximum amount of caffeine for adolescents is no more than 100 mg. a day.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 2015 found that a single 16 ounce energy drink – they used Rockstar for the study-released the stress hormone norepinephrine by 70 percent. The hormone is released during times of increased stress, such as testing time for college students. It also showed increases in blood pressure and heart rates.
Continuing, Barbieri said one of the issues adolescents face with the energy drinks is the marketing and government regulation.
“They are mostly marketing to young, adolescent boys and the [Federal Drug Administration] does not regulate [energy drinks] since they are considered diet supplements because of the addition of herbal supplements,” said Barbieri.
The energy drinks, such as Rockstar, Monster and AMP, have ingredients such as ginseng, guarana and milk thistle.
She said consumers, especially parents, need to be aware of what they are buying and what their children are buying.
“Parents need to know the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks,” said Barbieri. “Sports drink are good for hydration. Energy drinks – we don’t know the long-term consequences. They are full of sugars and caffeine”
She said one of the scariest aspects of the energy drinks is the easy availability to anyone.
“I was told [by a store clerk] that a two-year-old with two bucks could buy one,” said Barbieri.
She said one energy drink is even named Cocaine.
“Tell me what you think that name implies,” said Barbieri.
Continuing, she said parents can help by being aware of what their children are drinking when not around them.
“People follow suit with what other people are doing and the magic question is how do we get kids back on board,” said Barbieri. “Looking at alternative sources of energy is important and thinking how are you going to hydrate yourself after an athletic activity.”
She said today’s fast-track lifestyle lends itself to helping keep children from buying into the marketing of the energy drinks.
“Kids wants what is free, convenient and fast. The more you load up in the house, the less likely they will reach for [energy drinks,]” Barbieri said. “If we give them something easy and reliable and convenient, they’ll reach for it.”
Coconut water, she said, is one good source of hydration for kids after an athletic event.
“They need the electrolytes with prolonged physical activity, but they can even use sodium-fortified coconut water,” said Barbieri, adding that parents can look at the first three ingredients of any drink to get an idea of what their children are consuming.
“There have been overdoses on Rockstar, Red Bull and caffeine shots,” said Barbieri. “In other countries, like Turkey, Australia and Denmark they are actually banned or have warning labels.”
Cheryl McGrattan, vice president of marketing for Nathan Littauer, said parents will ask a child what they had for lunch, but not what they are drinking throughout the day.
“It is common for a parent to ask ‘What have you eaten for lunch today?’ but not what have you had to drink,” said McGrattan. “How frightening is it an 8-year-old can take their $3 and buy a Red Bull?”
Locally, energy drinks are not available in local schools, although they are at Fulton Montgomery Community College.
“We really do not use them because they are not allowed by the federal guidelines for the ala-carte menu,” said Teal Carpenter, nutrition director for Gloversville Enlarged School District.
She said that a vending machine at Boulevard Elementary has the sports drink Gatorade G2, but only because the gymnasium and school field are used for athletic practices and events.
“There is Gatorade in the vending machine outside the Boulevard gym because of team practices and we do sometimes use it at the high school vending machines, but other than that, we offer 100 percent juice, water and milk,” said Carpenter.
Gatorade is considered a sport drink.
Dustin Swanger, president of Fulton Montgomery Community College, said energy drinks were available to students attending the college.
“My position is they’re in college and it is not like they’re young children attending school in school district,” said Swanger. “They’re adults and they are going to buy them at the store or on campus.”
Barbieri said the key for parents is to become aware of what their children are consuming outside of the home.
“We can look at alternative sources of energy and rely on whole foods,” said Barbieri. “There is water, green tea and green tea smoothies and chocolate milk. We just have to think how we are going to get our kids back on board and drink what is good for them, not what is being marketed to them.”