Parents beware: The dangers of energy drinks
Dr. Olaf Jorgenson
Posted October 22, 2010
Parents in Almaden Valley are educated consumers. We choose to live here because of the excellent quality of life we enjoy: great schools, safe neighborhoods, beautiful vistas, and easy access to amenities.
Many of us are also health conscious, but may not be aware of the serious risks posed by so-called “energy drinks” that teenagers, and increasingly children, are consuming in staggering volumes.
Energy drinks including Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar are marketed as products intended to boost stamina with supposedly healthful ingredients. Originating in Japan in the early 1960s, the first energy drinks were infused with vitamins and metabolic agents intended to ward off fatigue, with mixed results.
In 1997, the current market leader Red Bull was introduced in the U.S. Boasting annual revenues in excess of $2 billion, Red Bull’s success prompted dozens of competitor beverages to enter the lucrative energy drink market, with their chief similarities being the massive unregulated doses of sugar and caffeine.
Their top consumers? Teenagers!
Energy drinks sold in 7-8 ounce containers include as much as 33mg of caffeine per ounce, roughly equal to drinking four 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola Classic, or nearly three 6 ounce cups of brewed coffee, in one sitting! And that is just the caffeine manufacturers disclose on labels; researchers note that there are often multiple sources of caffeine in energy drinks, so it’s hard to determine the true caffeine content.
The health implications of this raging trend should worry parents. Caffeine has no nutritional value. When children drink Red Bull, they’re not drinking healthy beverages like milk, juice, or water. Aren’t energy drinks somewhat nutritious because they include herbal ingredients, vitamins, and minerals? Actually, the “healthy” ingredients in energy drinks appear in such tiny quantities, they likely offer little or no benefit. It’s important to remember that children should be drinking at least 5-8 cups of water per day and if energy drinks are their first go-to, chances are that they aren’t getting enough of the fluids and nutritional beverages they need for healthy development.
Scant research exists on the risks of childhood caffeine consumption. We know that caffeine causes serious side effects in adults. Even moderate consumption (and energy drinks are not “moderately” caffeinated) causes increased heart rate, anxiety, irritability, and sleeplessness.
Those of us who live or work with teenagers would argue that any product shown to add irritability and subtract from precious little teen sleep should be immediately banned!
Several countries have done just that, or are considering such a ban. France and Sweden prohibited certain energy drinks after their consumption was linked with fatalities in young adults. Here in the United States, the FDA does not regulate energy drinks in any way.
It is especially disturbing to see cans of Red Bull appearing on the sidelines of Little League contests and club soccer games, consumed by coaches, spectators, and younger child athletes alike. Caffeine is a diuretic, so exercising vigorously and consuming this supposedly “healthy” beverage accelerates dehydration and can present life-threatening risks for an athlete.
Off the playing field, some teens claim energy drinks help with late-night schoolwork. Chances are, they’re dividing their “homework” time between academics, Facebook, gaming, texting, e-mail, web surfing, cell phones, and their iPods. Cut back on the distractions, and gain a couple hours of productivity (or sleep) — sans the Red Bull.
Ultimately, a teenager’s habitual use of energy drinks can lead to caffeine dependence, but given the massive amounts of stimulants in energy drinks, the “boost and crash” cycle is accelerated. Breaking a caffeine dependency involves further difficult side effects including headaches, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue.
Finally, although we may resist the notion that our own children engage in such behavior, a frightening craze at teen parties is mixing energy drinks with alcohol to “feel sober” even when intoxicated, emboldening them to drink even greater quantities. The combined onslaught of heaps of caffeine mixed with alcohol, doctors warn, is extremely risky. At this point, energy drink consumption moves from ill-advised to reckless.
The bottom line? When it comes to energy drinks like Red Bull, Rockstar, and Monster, there’s absolutely nothing about them that’s good for our children.
Ole Jorgenson is Head of School at Almaden Country School.
Published in Almaden Times Weekly October 22, 2010