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Energy Drinks and Kids: More Bad News

BY Lawrence Rosen, MD. 2/23/15

Energy drinks – the beverage of choice for many tweens and teens – have recently come under increased criticism.  A newly published study by researchers at Yale University found that “middle-school children who consume heavily sweetened energy drinks are 66% more likely to be at risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms.” This recent publication does not claim the rise in ADHD diagnoses in recent years is caused by increased consumption of energy drinks, but authors did find that risk of hyperactivity/inattention increased by 14% for each additional sweetened beverage consumed.  The Yale study adds to a growing literature documenting the serious adverse effects related to energy drinks.  The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that the number of emergency room visits related to energy drink use doubled from 2007 to 2011, with nearly 1500 visits for children ages 12-17.
 
Pediatricians have long called for a zero tolerance policy for these products.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a landmark statement in 2011, commenting, “Frequently containing high and unregulated amounts of caffeine, these drinks have been reported in association with serious adverse effects, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavioral disorders or those who take certain medications” and concluding, “Energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit, and many ingredients are understudied and not regulated.”  These drinks contain high levels of various compounds with potential for health harm.  Caffeine and sugar are the two biggest culprits, with up to 40g of sugar per serving and up to a whopping 242mg caffeine per serving.  In comparison, an average 8 oz. cup of coffee has about 100mg of caffeine.  The increased consumption of these sugar-sweetened beverages is also linked to the obesity epidemic plaguing our adolescents.  Additionally, many of these drinks contain potentially harmful artificial dyes and sweeteners.  The problem is not just a national concern, as the World Health Organization declared that increasing consumption of energy drinks poses a threat to worldwide public health.  
 
Remarkably, sales of energy drinks hit approximately $12.5 billion in 2012 and could reach $21.5 billion in 2017.  Why are so many kids turning to energy drinks?  A quick survey of patients in my pediatric practice paints a disturbing picture.  Kids note, “We are too busy, too stressed, overworked, and overscheduled.  We don't have time to eat well, exercise or get enough sleep.  We are exhausted and stressed out beyond belief.  We need something quick and easy to be able to function day in and day out.”  It’s no wonder that rates of anxiety, depression, and ADHD in adolescents are on the rise.  Perhaps if we, as a society, spent time and money developing stress coping resources and opportunities for our kids – and if we role modeled healthy lifestyle behaviors - they wouldn’t feel pressured to resort to quick fixes like energy drinks.  
 

dr_rosen_bio_pic_3-6-14Lawrence Rosen, MD is an integrative pediatrician and co-author of Treatment Alternatives for Children. He is the founder of the Whole Child Center, one of the country’s first green and integrative pediatric practices, and he serves as Medical Advisor to The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center.  Dr. Rosen’s academic credentials include positions as past Chair of the AAP Section on Integrative Medicine, Clinical Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at UMDNJ, and author of numerous articles and book chapters on integrative pediatrics. He is also the pediatric columnist for Kiwi Magazine and blogs for the Huffington Post. 

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