What do I need to know about my children and energy drinks?

Today Lisa Jackson, senior pediatric gastroenterology and liver transplant dietitian at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, is answering questions about children and energy drinks. Post your question in the comments and check back throughout the day to learn more.

How much caffeine from soda and energy drinks are safe for a child to have in a day? Is this the same for a teenager?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, caffeine-containing beverages, including soda, should be avoided.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers warns against children and adolescents consuming more than 100 mg of caffeine per day, equivalent to the caffeine in 1 small cup of coffee or 2-2.5 cans of soda (1).  Energy drinks are considered dietary supplements and therefore are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Overall, The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against caffeine-containing beverages, especially energy drink consumption in children and adolescents.

 

Are there any concerns I should have if my child drinks a lot of caffeine?

Yes, caffeine can affect your child’s heart rate, blood pressure, speech rate, attentiveness, digestive function, mood, and sleep.  If your child already suffers from an anxiety disorder, caffeine may increase the effects (2).

Children who consume large amounts of caffeine may suffer from withdrawal symptoms.  Monitor for headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and/or flulike symptoms (3).

 

During exam time high school and college students seem to consume more energy drinks.  Is this safe for a short period of time?

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, consuming even one energy drink may cause nausea, vomiting, nervousness, tremors, insomnia, restlessness, delirium, sweating, headaches, seizures and/or increased heart rate.  Additional concerns are kidney problems, mood swings, diarrhea, chest pain, dehydration and/or increased blood pressure.

High school and college students aim to boost concentration and energy levels with energy drinks.  Caffeine can affect heart rate, blood pressure, speech rate, attentiveness, and digestion.  If the student already suffers from an anxiety disorder, caffeine can further exacerbate the effects.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 1,833 children and adolescents were exposed to energy drinks in 2013 (1).  This national center warns against children and adolescents consuming more than 100 mg of caffeine per day, equivalent to the caffeine in 1 small cup of coffee.  Energy drinks are consumed by 30-50% of adolescents.  One energy drink may contain over 500 mg caffeine per serving, which is equivalent to 14 cans of soda. (3)  Be wary of energy drink labels that claim their product is “natural”, but still contain caffeine-containing ingredients such as yerba mate, taurine, or guarana.  Many of these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and may contain much higher levels of caffeine.

 

I don’t know if my children are drinking energy drinks outside of the house.  Are there signs I should look for that they may be consuming an unhealthy amount of caffeine?

Yes, the caffeine in energy drinks may trigger headaches, lightheadedness, anxiety, agitation, chest pain, complaints of the heart “racing” (heart palpitations), nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and/or inability to control bowel function.

Remember that sports drinks and energy drinks are different.  Sports drinks contain mostly carbohydrates and electrolytes.  Sport drink companies target athletes as their main consumer, although these products have limited benefits in pediatric athletes.  Adolescents participating in prolonged, vigorous physical activity may benefit from the electrolyte replacement beverage.  However, many children and adolescents consume these products instead of water.  This can increase the risk of obesity and dental erosion.  Water should be the main source of hydration for children and adolescents, even those participating in sports.

Energy drinks contain stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana and taurine.  These substances should be avoided in children and adolescents as they have been linked to neurologic and cardiovascular system side effects.  Many of the ingredients are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

 

Are there healthy alternatives to energy drinks and soda?

Yes, some healthy alternatives include water, skim or 2% milk, or juice and water mixed in a 50:50 ratio.  Total juice intake should be limited to 8 ounces/day (1 cup).

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, energy drinks should never be consumed by children or adolescents.  These beverages contain stimulants that may increase risk of seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, mood and behavioral disorders or interact with certain medications.

 

Resources:

  1. The American Association of Poison Control Centers.  http://www.aapcc.org/alerts/energy-drinks/
  2. The American Academy of Pediatrics. http://www.aap.org/
  3. Pediatrics.  Vol. 127 No.6 June 1, 2011 pp. 1182-1189.  Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?  Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.  doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-0965
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4 Comments

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Comments

Ella Mae Haber March 26, 2014 at 12:25 pm

It drives me crazy when I see little children (8-10) to to end of isle and grab a Red Bull and put in with item on check up counter and Mom says nothing and pays for it. I want to say to Her DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR DOING TO YOUR CHILD........

Reply

Ivy McMullen March 26, 2014 at 8:48 am

My child has ADHD and caffeine helps her focus without prescription medications. Is it ever safe, or preferable, for her to use an energy drink in place of a prescription stimulant?

Reply

Meagan O'Neill March 26, 2014 at 5:08 pm

That is a great question. I would not recommend energy drinks in place of any prescription stimulant for adults or children. Energy drinks contain various amounts of caffeine – some contain caffeine amounts equivalent to 18 cans of soda. They also contain substances not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which have been linked to neurologic and cardiovascular system side effects. - Lisa Jackson

Reply

Laura Cunningham March 26, 2014 at 7:30 am

Great information - very helpful!

Reply

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