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energy drinks

What Are Energy Drinks Doing to Your Kids?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Agata Kowalewska, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

They’re everywhere you go these days: a huge variety of so-called energy drinks, sporting claims that they’ll “give you wings,” maximize your concentration, or otherwise lend you super-human powers. While I’ve never tried one, I can see why these beverages might appeal to tired and busy college students. They certainly receive a lot of marketing.

How Do They Affect Kids and Teens?

But these drinks are bought and consumed by younger people, too—middle schoolers, and even younger. Most such beverages contain plenty of sugar, lots of caffeine (on average, much more than soda), plus other ingredients that may not be neutral. What effects are these drinks having on youth and children who may not even have reached puberty yet?

Survey of Students and Sweetened Drinks

In a recent study of over 1600 middle schoolers from 12 different schools, researchers looked at sweetened drink consumption in this age group. The students were asked how many sweetened beverages (including fruit drinks, soda, energry and sports drinks, sweetened coffees, and so on) they drank every day. They also answered questions about any symptoms of hyperactivity or inattention they commonly experienced. (For instance, they indicated if they constantly fidgeted and squirmed, or felt easily distracted.)

About 15% of students scored “at risk” on these questions, suggesting that they might have problems with hyperactivity and inattention. This is a pretty typical figure for the nation as a whole. But were kids who drank more sugary drinks (and especially, more energy drinks) more hyper and distractible?

Energy Drinks Linked to Problem Symptoms

Indeed, they were. The more sweet drinks students consumed, the more likely they were to show signs of a problem. What’s more, it seemed to be true that energy drinks, in particular, were behind this link. Even though soda and fruit drinks were the most frequently consumed sugary beverages, energy drinks showed a unique link to student-reported problems with concentration and hyperactivity. This was true even when taking race, family income, and family structure into account.

Kids and Teens Should Avoid These Beverages

Parents need to be aware that these energy drinks are not intended for children and teens and that their ingredients may be linked to problems with behavior and school. It’s also important to note that on average, the average kid in this study reported drinking two sweetened beverages a day—a lot of empty calories, even without caffeine and other additives. Caffeine, of course, can have other negative physical effects, including irregular heartbeat, stomach pain, dizziness, and rarely, seizures.

Ask your child or teen about these beverages, and explain that they could cause health and behavior issues that might make him or her feel bad, or have issues at school. If kids and teens this age need “extra energy,” maybe a better way of getting it is through extra sleep!

(Photo credit: Energy drinks by Daniel Jurena. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading

Sports and Energy Drinks–from KidsHealth

Kids Should Not Consume Energy Drinks, and Rarely Need Sports Drinks, Says AAP –from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Why Energy Drinks and Your Children Don’t Mix–from the Cleveland Clinic

References:

Schwartz, D. L., et al. (2015). Energy drinks and youth self-reported hyperactivity/inattention symptoms. Academic Pediatrics. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acap.2014.11.006