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Children and Teens Should Avoid Energy Drinks

Energy drinks dangerous for young people

Photo Courtesy: Center for Science in the Public Interest

Energy drinks give you wings, vitalize body and mind and allow you to unleash the beast and party like a rock star. The advertised effects of energy drinks may be oversold but the unwanted effects could be a result.

Energy drinks are marketed as providing a boost of energy and increasing mental alertness but the safety of the ingredients that provide that boost is questionable in certain groups, especially in children, and the necessity of these drinks to the average adult's daily intake is doubtful.

Energy drinks contain added stimulants, usually caffeine, and may contain a variety of sugars, sugar substitutes, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and herbs, although caffeine seems to be the most controversial ingredient.

If you're trying to keep an eye on your caffeine intake, it's important to know how much is in the foods you're buying. When caffeine is added to a beverage, Health Canada requires that the total caffeine content of that beverage be communicated on the product's packaging, directly below the nutrition facts panel as follows: "Caffeine Content: # mg per 'stated serving size.'"

Near the caffeine content you should also see a note recommending the product not be consumed by children, pregnant or nursing women and those who are sensitive to caffeine. An excess of caffeine can cause, headaches, irritability, nervousness and rapid heart rate, which can be especially dangerous in children.

The Canadian Pediatric Society published a position statement on sports drinks and caffeinated energy drinks in the fall of 2017. They concluded that caffeinated energy drinks "pose potential risks for the health of children and adolescents and may contribute to obesity."

Health Canada recommends that children and adolescents aged 13 and older not consume more than 2.5mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. For a 75 lb (34 kg) child, this would be no more than 85 mg of caffeine per day, which would be equivalent to approximately one can of the market-leading energy drink. The recommendation is based on weight since youth who weigh less can experience greater exposure to stimulant ingredients, such as caffeine, and the effect of these ingredients can seem amplified. Healthy adults should not consume more than 400 mg of caffeine per day; this would equate to approximately 4 cups of coffee.

While the caffeine in an energy drink may stimulate the nervous system and increase mental alertness, the added sugars will intensify that feeling of increased energy. The leading brand of energy drink contains 40 g of sugar per can, or almost four tablespoons.

Another common ingredient in energy drinks is taurine, an amino acid which is a building block of protein and may be added to energy drinks as a way of promoting their use during intense exercise, although the direct benefits of taurine to physical activity have not been proven.

A variety of added vitamins and minerals can also add to the feeling of an energy drink being an alternative way to meet those nutrient requirements. Much like taurine, herbs such as ginseng and gingko biloba often come with the claim that they improve physical and mental performance, although there is a lack of evidence to support this.

With an increasing body of evidence documenting the negative effects of energy drinks, some countries are starting to take steps to regulate their content and labeling.

On May 1, 2018, the largest province in Pakistan ordered that the manufacturers of energy drinks sold in the region remove the word "energy" from their drinks and instead replace it with "stimulant," claiming the word "energy" is misleading. The region's food authority also made demands around reducing the caffeine content of energy drinks. The mandate came following growing concern regarding the safety of these beverages in an area of 110 million residents and some of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. Most manufacturers have already agreed to the demands.

These changes are not entirely without precedence. Australia already regulates the content of energy drinks sold in the country and most supermarkets in the UK have banned the sale of energy drinks to those under the age of 16.

While Health Canada does regulate the caffeine content of energy drinks and orders that they not be marketed to children and adolescents, they are still free to be sold to anyone of any age. This is despite the Canadian Medical Association's previous calls to ban the sale of energy drinks to people under the legal drinking age, due to the proven effects these drinks have on the health and behaviour of children.

Just like any other food or beverage, it's up to the consumer to understand the ingredients in energy drinks and their potential effects, although misleading marketing can give the impression that certain products are not as harmful as they may be. If energy drinks are a regular part of yours or your child's diet, it would be worth checking their caffeine content and ingredients and determining if they're a necessary part of your diet or something that can be eliminated.

Kelsey Leckovic is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health working in chronic disease management.

Story Credit: http://www.princegeorgecitizen.com/opinion/columnists/children-and-teens-should-avoid-energy-drinks-1.23323053