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Do your kids or teenagers drink energy drinks?

February 15, 2012

The debate about kids and their drinks of choice came to the forefront recently as a family featured on the show “Toddlers and Tiaras “described their pre-pageant routine. Watch this clip from “Good Morning America” where Mom describes how her concoction of “go-go juice” (a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull) gets her daughter ready for the stage:

While “Toddlers and Tiaras” thrives on the various controversies of the petite pageant world, there is a serious issue here. While most of us are not pushing our child to guzzle a bottle of Mountain Dew and Red Bull, it does bring up a good question: Should my child or teenager drink energy drinks?

 What are energy drinks?

An estimated 40% of teenagers have consumed one of these in the past two weeks. Energy drinks are beverages that may contain carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes as well as certain additives intended to work as a stimulant. These stimulants may include caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, l-carnitine, creatine and glucuronolactone.

Some of the popular brand names include: Red Bull, Java Monster, Monster Energy, Power Trip, Rockstar and Full Throttle.

These drinks are heavily targeted towards young people, and are billed as a healthy choice that gives one a physical and mental edge. The Red Bull website reads:

Red Bull Energy Drink has been developed for people who want to have a clear and focused mind, perform physically, are dynamic and performance-oriented whilst also balancing this with a fun and active lifestyle.

In short, Red Bull gives wings to people who want to be mentally and physically active and have a zest for life.

It sounds good, right? Don’t we all want a clear and focused mind and a fun and active lifestyle?

The problem is this: the effects of these energy drinks have not been tested in children or adolescents.

Are energy drinks safe for children and teenagers?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report detailing their recommendations on the use of energy drinks in children and adolescents.

Although caffeine has been shown to improve physical performance in aerobic activities and endurance in adults, there are many downsides to caffeine consumption in children and teenagers. Caffeine triggers an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. It can cause sleep disturbances and can worsen anxiety in those with anxiety disorders. It is also known to play a role in triggering irregular heart rhythms.

Since children’s bodies are still developing, pediatricians are also concerned about how large amounts of caffeine may affect a growing heart and brain, as well as the risk of physical dependence and addiction.

Other additives such as guarana, taurine, ginseng and others that are used as stimulants have not been tested in children and adolescents. They may increase the effects of caffeine, and are a cause for concern.

Drinks that contain electrolytes, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals are marketed as a healthy replenishment for the active body. However, in most cases these do not provide any added benefit over eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water. They do, however, add plenty of sugar and calories, which contributes to poor dental health and may contribute to obesity in young people.

In short, no one can say for sure that these beverages are safe for children or teenagers. But, we do know there are serious side effects that can occur.

So, what is a parent to do?

For young children, discourage any use of energy drinks and excessive caffeine consumption. Water and low-fat milk are the beverages of choice that will help your child grow strong and healthy.

If you are the parent of a teenager, talk about this issue with them. Let them know how these energy drinks can affect their body and encourage them to stay away from them.

Let us know what you think. Do your children drink energy drinks?