The American Association of Pediatrics issued a report in June that stated energy drinks have no place in kids’ diets. Energy drinks are basically sodas with added caffeine, along with caffeine-containing herbs like guarana as well as other ingredients like taurine that boost caffeine's effects.
The total effect can be equal to 500 mg of caffeine, the equivalent of 14 cans of regular soda, and “clearly high enough to result in caffeine toxicity” the AAP report states. According to Georgia Pung, a local pediatrician and Mill Valley resident, children and adults have had to be rushed to emergency rooms with tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and arrhythmia. Coronary vasospasm, which produces heart attack like symptoms have also been reported. Long term effects on the heart and neurological systems of developing children are unknown but potentially dangerous.
Moderately high doses of caffeine are not good at any age, causing anxiety, irritability, headaches, insomnia, muscle twitching, tremors, stomach ulcers and esophagitis to name a few. Caffeine intoxication (aka the coffee jitters) is common. In very high doses, caffeine can produce symptoms such as mania, depression, delusions, disinhibition and hallucinations.
The soda delivery system in these drinks is also a concern with its concentrated sugar wreaking havoc on blood sugar, blood fats, teeth and weight.
Equally troubling are the addictive properties of caffeinated drinks and the potential for abuse. I'm not saying they're a gateway drug, but some kids will try anything to get high.
“It starts when they spin around in circles as little kids and learn how to alter their perception,” one of my co-workers said to me recently. The recent deaths of teens after drinking the alcohol-spiked energy drink Four Loko point out the depth of the problem.
In 2010, the FDA stated that adding caffeine to alcohol beverages was an “unsafe additive” causing individuals to underestimate their level of intoxication, and ordered manufacturers to stop. This, of course, can’t stop us from adding our own rum to these super colas.
Clearly this is a substance abuse problem and the substance is widely available and accessible to children. Caffeine is the most popular, socially accepted psychoactive drug. Huge coffee cups and people high on caffeine are regular images on TV and movies. Remember the movie Yes Man where Jim Carrey makes a joke about getting high on Red Bull? Adults actually say things like "I can't function without my morning coffee" as if they were proud of it. In this atmosphere how do we discourage our kids from drinking energy drinks?
I don't have the answer, but we must start with ourselves and check our own use of this substance in ourselves and how we make it appear to our kids. Yes, studies have shown caffeine improves athletic performance, but please don’t give your little leaguer a shot before the game in hopes they’ll play better. They get it in the head that performance enhancement substances are OK, and that winning is everything.
We must educate our children about the use and abuse of any substance. No matter how hard we wage the war on drugs, kids will always find new and inventive ways to get high. Let’s keep ‘em from killing themselves in the process.