Kids have a lot more choices when it comes to quenching their thirst these days. But doctors are urging them to avoid caffeinated energy drinks and reduce the amount of sports drinks they consume.
Water should be the primary beverage for children and teens, according to a clinical report released in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The report said this age group does not typically need sports drinks and that they should avoid all energy drinks.
U.S. sales of non-alcoholic energy drinks will reach an estimated $9 billion in 2011. The drinks have become more popular with children and teens, who now account for about half of the market.
Brand names such as Red Bull, AMP and Rockstar tend to have high levels of caffeine, added sugars and other herbal stimulants like guarana and taurine. The researchers said these added ingredients are cause for concern in children and young adults.
“There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products,” said Dr. Marcie Beth Schneider, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and co-author of the report in a CNN story. “Some kids are drinking energy drinks—containing large amounts of caffeine—when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise,” she said. “This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous.”
Manufacturers claim their products can help enhance mental or physical performance, but researchers have linked energy drinks to high heart rates and blood pressure along with insomnia and anxiety issues.
“In many cases, it's hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label,” Schneider said. “Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda.”
The report also addressed sports drinks—like Gatorade—and said that young athletes who are involved in vigorous sports and exercise for prolonged periods of time can rehydrate with sports drinks, but everyone else should replenish with vitamins and minerals from water and a well-balanced diet.
This is not the first time that physicians have cautioned against energy drinks.
Earlier in 2011, Pediatrics published a review and Florida pediatricians described cases of seizures, delusions, heart problems and kidney or liver damage in people who had drunk one or more energy drinks. While they said such cases are rare, they did urge special caution for kids with medical conditions.
For children or teens who say they are bored with plain water, add a splash of lemon or lime or a slice of cucumber or strawberry to give it more flavor.
Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.
Reviewed June 1, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton