Are we going to let energy drinks turn our children into addicted zombies?
Popularity of Energy Drinks
The past two decades have demonstrated to us the rise to stardom of energy drinks. Energy drinks have infiltrated not only the lives of adults but also the lives of our children, turning them into jacked-up zombies, awake, fully alert and active for long unnecessary hours. So, what’s bad about that? Wait, let’s back up a little here and provide a short introduction and history of energy drinks.
An energy drink is any beverage that contains a high concentration of caffeine and other stimulants. To sweeten the deal and suck you into buying them for your children, manufacturers add herbal supplements, vitamins, ginseng, guarana, taurine, and sweeteners. They’re advertised and promoted as weight loss supplements, performance enhancers, and providers of increased energy. This makes regulation of these products difficult and distribution to children and young adults easy.
The Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is a trans-tasman government agency responsible for the standards and codes for regulating proper declaration of contents and labelling of energy drinks. As a consequence, it’s the responsibility of each state and territory to understand, enforce, and monitor these standards. Even with these concerned authorities in place, poisoning secondary to ingestion of energy drinks is still a big problem.
Today’s children and young adults perceive energy drinks as cool and to them they symbolise increased energy and power. They have cool sounding names and powerful advertisements that motivate your kids to buy and drink them. Adolescents and college students, in particular, are hooked on the feeling that they have the extra energy to study late at night before an exam and party until the break of dawn the following night. When combined with alcohol, energy drinks become unpredictable. They can provide the false impression of an elevated mood and happy disposition, only to crash for several hours as the effects wear off. Here’s the kicker, when they wake up, they’ll want more of the stuff. The vicious cycle continues.
Table illustrating a short history and rise to stardom of energy drinks
Coca-Cola soft drink is arguably the first energy drink because it contained caffeine and cocaine (both stimulants). Don’t worry; the cocaine was removed from Coke in 1903.
Glucozade was introduced in the UK. It was intended for patients diagnosed with the cold or flu. It was later renamed to Lucozade in 1929. Like Coke, it’s still around today.
Dr Enuf was developed. It has some herbal varieties that contain guarana and ginseng.
Lipovitan was introduced into the market from Japan. Also marketed to boost mental alertness.
Krating Daeng (Yes, that’s the name of the drink), also called Thai Red Bull. The prototype for Red Bull. Named after an animal found in Thailand, a cousin of the guar wild cattle.
Red Bull was born, and billions of dollars in revenue came afterwards.
Several energy drinks have been introduced into the market up to this day turning your children into energy drink addicted zombies.
No matter which regulations or restrictions are in place, the more energy drinks your child consumes per day, the higher their chances of experiencing the negative effects.
Most children, adolescents, and young adults exceed the allowable limits for energy drinks on a daily basis. A study among New Zealand adolescents (13-19 years old) and children (5-12 years old) found that 40% of the adolescents and 70% of the children have maxed out their limits and continued to consume energy drinks on a daily basis.
A survey among college students in the US stated that 253 out of 496 of those surveyed habitually drank energy drinks way more than once every week. The desire to have an extra edge or energy and lack of sleep were the most common reasons for consuming energy drinks.
One plus one is NOT two when it comes to the world of ingredients found in energy drinks. The total effect is more often than not synergistic instead of cumulative, meaning the result of the combination of ingredients found in energy drinks could have magnified and unpredictable negative impacts on the health of your child.
Again, one plus one is NOT two. A teenager or young adult combining alcohol with an energy drink may overlook intoxication from alcohol because of the increased mental alertness brought about by the energy drinks. As a consequence, your teenager might drink alcohol way beyond his limit without realising it to the point of being unconscious. After that, the “I was drunk stories…” pour in. Fun at the time, but never smart or safe.
The sugars in energy drinks can be high fructose corn syrup, sucrose or simply glucose. The sugar content can reach 35mg of sugar per 200ml of energy drink. Multiply that by 3 to 4 energy drinks a day and the daily sugar limit is easily exceeded. Such a large amount of sugar can lead to dental caries and obesity at a very early age. Oh, let’s not underestimate your child’s (or adolescent’s) creative ability if he intends to combine energy drinks to make him a superhero.
Child and adolescent caffeine intake MUST NOT exceed 2.5mg per kg of body weight and 100mg per day, respectively. Remember these numbers when you read energy drink labels.
The main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. Up to 80mg of caffeine per 200 to 250ml can be found in energy drinks. Higher concentrations may be found in those marketed as energy shots beverages. Your average cup of instant coffee contains caffeine in the range of 30mg to 170mg per 250ml. For adolescents, the American Academy of Paediatrics only allows 100mg of caffeine per day. No caffeinated drinks or energy drinks should be given to children.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health and FSANZ are stricter in only allowing energy drinks once in awhile for adolescents and young adults. Again, no energy drinks should be given to children younger than 12 years old. The essential thing to remember here is that if you notice your child having low energy, difficulty focusing, and acting sleepy most of time, DO NOT give them energy drinks. Take them to your primary health care practitioner or paediatrician to find out the cause. Energy drinks aren’t medicines. They might do more harm than good when it comes to children and adolescents.
So, what’s bad about that? Negative Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents and Young Adults
Body part, system or process affected.
Sleep disturbances. Imagine how hard it would be to put them to bed if they’re jacked up on energy drinks. Their motor activity is also increased.
Decrease in attention span.
If consuming energy drinks became habitual then was suddenly stopped, your child might experience withdrawal symptoms like decreased reaction time and headaches.
Children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have an increased risk of substance abuse. When they have energy drinks along with their ADHD medications, they may experience cardiotoxic symptoms. Not cool.
Increase in blood pressure. Don’t let this happen at such a young age. The long-term effects of high blood pressure are already well-established.
Children and young adults with heart disease should NOT consume energy drinks. The risk for syncope, hypertension, and sudden death increases.
Obesity is an ever-escalating epidemic of massive proportions. Excess consumption of sugar-loaded energy drinks can complicate overweight issues and make it difficult for children and adolescents to lose weight. Let’s not forget the possibility of developing diabetes mellitus while we’re at it.
Additional problems like depression, and low self esteem because of overweight issues can have a huge impact on your child’s psychological development.
The caffeine in energy drinks inhibits absorption of calcium from your digestive tract. Bones need huge amounts of calcium until the age of 21 to maximise growth and remodelling processes.
No one is absolutely certain about the long-term effects of energy drinks. Research studies are still ongoing to determine their long-term effects. There are some conditions though that have been found to be linked to long-term consumption of energy drinks.
Cardiovascular Disease. There are preliminary findings that the amount of caffeine found in energy drinks consumed on a daily basis may lead to hardening of the arteries (blood vessels), thereby increasing blood pressure. Imagine if you allow your children to drink at such an early age. They might suffer from a range of cardiovascular diseases by the time they become adults. Energy drinks make sure that your heart is always working hard, almost never allowing it to rest, until you stop drinking energy drinks.
Osteoporosis. There’s some evidence brewing over the horizon stating that caffeine may contribute to the development of osteoporosis later in life. Caffeine does promote loss of calcium from the bones. It’s worrisome to see your child or teenager consume energy drinks like milk, knowing that active bone formation takes place during those years.
Decrease in kidney function. One of the functions of your kidneys is to form urine. Caffeine is a potent stimulant of urine formation (diuretic). Long-term consumption of energy drinks by children may damage their kidneys by depending entirely on caffeine to form urine. Inability to form urine can lead to a buildup of toxins in their bodies. Of course, nobody wants that at an early age.
Caffeine is an addictive substance. Much like nicotine, caffeine can be very addictive and effectively appeals to the higher centres of your brain. A child with a developing brain is particularly vulnerable to becoming dependent especially when started at an early age. You as the parent have the power not to let that happen.
Instead of energy drinks, drink these alternatives…
Dandelion coffee. A well-known coffee substitute also known as dandelion tea is often ridiculed as a pesky weed. But don’t be fooled by its name because this pesky weed is caffeine-free and comes out as a heavyweight packed with nutrients like vitamins (A, B, C, and D) and minerals (potassium, iron, and zinc).
Carob cinnamon beverage. Instead of an energy drink, try a relaxing cup of caffeine-free carob cinnamon. Add milk for a delightful taste.
Roasted chicory. Another caffeine-free alternative that helps your constipation and diabetes (if you have them). Studies have demonstrated its potential to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. Like dandelion coffee and carob, you can add milk for a yummy coffee alternative.
Green tea. Green tea is noted for promoting weight loss and supporting digestion. It has some caffeine, but less than coffee.
Chai tea. This spiced milk tea from India has certainly come a long way from its roots. The modern world has certainly applied its twist on this wonderful energy drink substitute in the form of milkshakes, chocolate chai, and low-calorie versions. It has anti-inflammatory benefits and helps you with your digestion. When it’s made with black tea, it still contains caffeine. But you can make it with rooibos tea instead for a caffeine free alternative.
Yerba mate. This herbal tea may promote weight loss and help to prevent type 2 diabetes from developing. Yerba mate contains some caffeine, though less than coffee.
Low sugar iced tea. A nice energy drink alternative you can enjoy with your children while having a picnic. Explore numerous flavours and recipes on a weekly basis.
Note: Except for low sugar iced tea, the other drinks in the list given above are NOT suitable for children (less than 13 years old). Adolescents and young adults are welcome to try out these energy drink alternatives. When it comes to children under 13 years, the best and healthiest drinks are water and milk.
The Bottom Line
Energy drinks aren’t suitable for children, adolescents, and young adults. Almost always, the risks and negative impacts outwrestle the benefits. No therapeutic benefits will come out of drinking energy drinks. Your children can survive and perform well without them. The precise long-term health implications of energy drinks are yet to be determined. Instead of turning them into energy drink addicted zombies, introduce them to healthy alternatives.