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Energy Drinks and Teens

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Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 | CWK Producer

“They’re going to get that boost, but in the long run they’re not going to be doing their best. And they may not even notice they’re not doing their best.”

– Elizabeth Redmond, Ph.D. and Nutritionist

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According to a recent Time magazine article, the afternoon coffee break for an energy boost — may just become a generational thing. Those under age 24 are now more likely to reach for a caffeine-loaded energy drink, a trend that just might mean risky business for today’s teens.

Researchers from the University of Buffalo have found a link between teens who consume a large quantity of high energy drinks and risky behavior. Is it that these drinks cause risky behavior? Or is it that kids who consume these drinks take more risks? The jury is still out, but nutritionists say these drinks are risky in another way.

In the past few years the market for so called ‘energy drinks’ has exploded. Full of sugar and caffeine, there’s now around a dozen energy drinks on the market, and they’re very popular with kids.

“I’ve had Rockstar,” says Hunter, 13.

Thirteen-year-old Will’s favorites? “Monster, Rooster Booster.”

“Sobe’s Adrenaline Rush,” answers T.J., age 14.

“It tastes very good,” explains 16-year-old Corrissa, “It gives me energy.”

Energy, according to promotional materials, makes these drinks good for school or sports performance. “They do kind of imply they’re sports drinks,” says Nutritionist Elizabeth Redmond, Ph.D., “but a sports drink like Gatorade or something would hydrate you. And these drinks have a lot of caffeine, and they’re actually going to have a diuretic effect and can dehydrate.”

And while the caffeine in many of these drinks, the same as the amount in an average cup of coffee, gives kids a boost, a couple hours later, they crash.

“Yeah if I drink one I might be kind of hyper for a while and then I’ll be like ‘Ehhhh’ and get real tired,” explains 12-year-old Luke.

Experts add the side effects of caffeine also include loss of appetite, moodiness, headaches, nausea, difficulty sleeping.

And while there haven’t been any long term studies on the effect of regular caffeine use by kids, Redmond explains that, “Once you get used to the caffeine boost you’re going to want to keep getting it. But it’s just not a healthy lifestyle that you want to get into.”

Experts say parents should teach kids caffeine can be addictive, and that if they’re looking for better performance, there’s a much better way. “Getting enough sleep, being hydrated and eating a healthy diet would be the three biggest things you’d want to look at if you wanted to get more energy to do better at sports,” says Redmond.

What We Need To Know

Now more than ever, it seems that students are relying on caffeinated products like Red Bull to help them stay awake to study for tests. In fact, some experts report that caffeine dependency among high school students has steadily increased over the past five years. Consider these recent studies of children and caffeine consumption:

  • A researcher at the University of California-San Francisco found that when school-aged children took a high daily dose of caffeine, their attention span decreased. And after the effects of the caffeine dissipated, their performance in various tasks was impaired.
  • National Institute of Mental Health child psychiatry researcher Judith Rapoport, M.D., found 8- to-13-year-olds who regularly consumed high doses of caffeine were judged more restless by teachers, and that one-third were hyperactive enough to meet the criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • In a study by Stanford University neurobiologist Avram Goldstein, fifth- and sixth-graders at a Denver school deprived of daily caffeine reported having symptoms including trouble thinking clearly, not feeling energetic and getting angry. Even children who typically consume 28 milligrams a day (less than an average soda) felt symptoms.
  • Since caffeine leaches small amounts of calcium from the bones, a 1994 Harvard study concluded that soda consumption increases the possibility for bone fracture among teenage girls.

Even though these products may seem like a quick fix for helping students study late into the night, most teens are unaware of how caffeine affects their bodies. According to the Nemours Foundation Kids’ Health online resource, caffeine is a mild stimulant that causes increased heart rate and alertness. Most people who are sensitive to caffeine experience a temporary increase in energy and elevation in mood. Yet, this energized feeling quickly evaporates and leaves students feeling tired and irritable. The Mayo Clinic cites these additional side effects of caffeine:

  • Insomnia
  • Heartburn
  • Intestinal upsets, such as constipation and diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Jitters, anxiety, heart palpitations or rapid heart rate
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Temporary depression
  • Calcium loss: Kids build their peak bone mass as they grow through calcium intake and exercise. Yet, caffeine causes calcium loss, so if they’re drinking more coffee and soda, but less milk, they not only get less calcium from the dairy products but also lose calcium due to increased caffeine intake.
  • Dehydration: Because caffeine is a diuretic, it can cause your body to become weak from not having enough water. Although you may think you’re getting plenty of liquids, caffeine works against the body in two ways: It has a dehydrating effect on the body’s cells and increases the need to urinate. It is particularly important for active teens who play sports to drink non-caffeinated beverages each day to avoid dehydration.

Energy drinks are not harmful if you have them occasionally, but they’re not the healthy choices the advertising hype makes them out to be either. The truth is, the best energy boost comes from healthy living. People who eat well, drink water, and get enough physical activity and rest will have plenty of energy — the natural way.

There is also concern about the combination of “energy drinks” and alcohol, especially on college campuses. The company that produces the Four Loko beverage recently announced that it will remove the caffeine and two other ingredients from its products after facing a cascade of criticism and regulatory scrutiny for producing the energy drinks, which combine high levels of the stimulant with alcohol. According to an online publication of the Boston University School of Public Health, the beverages are used by party-goers to get drunk faster. What you get, one nutritionist says, is “a wide-awake drunk.” Just because your child may be drinking energy beverages, doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is mixing them with alcohol.

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