Ban the Canned Caffeine

Teen with drink

By Stephen Restaino, DO

Energy drinks have names like punk rock bands for good reason. They are marketed specifically to teenagers. And while they may look like soda, their effects are more similar to a strong cup of coffee. A cup of drip coffee has between 120 and 150 mg of caffeine. Many of the energy drinks popular with teenagers have 160-175 mg of caffeine in a can. Others, sold in tiny bottles, have as much as 300 mg of caffeine in a 1-ounce serving.

Pediatricians have warned of the danger for years, and now the American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in with a study that confirms adverse effects including seizures and cardiac abnormalities.

While even the listed caffeine content is excessive, many also contain secondary sources of caffeine, like guarana. Since these are usually listed separately from caffeine on the label, the true caffeine content of some energy drinks may be even higher than the label suggests. Energy drinks also list ingredients such as taurine and vitamin B12. Because energy drinks are classified as dietary supplements, however, they are not regulated for safety or accuracy in labeling.

Energy drinks do resemble sodas in one respect: the amount of sugar they contain, which is anywhere from 7 to 12 teaspoons per can. And many teens aren’t stopping at one can. They’re drinking several cans in one sitting to get high or to try to gain an edge on the playing field. Since caffeine is a diuretic, it can exacerbate the effects of dehydration during athletic endeavors, when kids should be replenishing lost fluids with water. Teens are also mixing energy drinks with alcohol, a very, very dangerous combination.

A rare energy drink is not going to make your child a caffeine addict, but a daily energy drink will certainly create dependence on caffeine. If your teenager consumes energy drinks on a regular basis, convince him to kick the habit. Studies have shown that these drinks do not increase performance levels, either in sports or in school. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising every day are safer, more effective ways to boost your energy level.

Dr. Restaino practices with CHKD’s General Pediatrics.

By Stephen Restaino, DO practices with CHKD Health System’s General Pediatrics.