Many health advocates say sales of energy drinks to minors should be illegal, just like cigarettes.
Yet up to one-third of kids 12 to 17 consume energy drinks regularly. Popular brands are laden with caffeine, sugar and other stimulants. The drinks are addictive, and heavy consumption can lead to a host of ill effects, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms.
Dr. Michelle Levitt, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital, recommends parents not purchase energy drinks or allow them in the home.
“I advise parents to be role models for their children, and to not drink energy drinks either,” Dr. Levitt said. “Parents and healthcare providers should screen kids, especially teens, for the use of energy drinks and educate them on the health risks.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children have no caffeine, and that teens consume no more than 100 milligrams a day.
“Energy drinks contain 100-500 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the size and brand, not counting additives like guarana, which also contains caffeine,” Dr. Levitt said. “And most people aren’t drinking just one.”
Five hundred milligrams of caffeine is equivalent to about 5 cups of coffee.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to disclose the amount of caffeine in the drinks. Nor does it regulate other ingredients that are often used (more information about what goes into energy drinks can be found here).
Risks are greatest among those who consume more than 1 energy drink in a short period of time, and pairing the drinks with alcohol, a growing and dangerous trend.
“The long-term effects of consumption are less clear,” said a 2016 American Heart Association journal article. “However, the effects of these drinks on the heart and their association with conduct disorders, violent behaviors, and consumption of illegal substances points to the potential for lasting dangers that warrant further study.”
Energy drinks can also cause stomach aches, headaches, jitteriness, sleep problems, dehydration and irritability, Dr. Levitt said.
Emergency room visits related to energy drinks doubled between 2007 and 2011. Yet doctors have a tough task countering heavy marketing of the beverages.
“Kids think they are cool,” Dr. Levitt said. “They are addicted to the buzz, the energy surge. The sugar in the drinks also lights up the reward center of the brain, releasing endorphins and also contributing to addiction.”
Many athletes think energy drinks help them perform better. But there is no proof of that. In fact, during physical activity, the caffeine and additives in energy drinks can hamper blood flow to the heart and cause other issues, Dr. Levitt said.