You know that milk, water and 100% fruit juice are safe for your child to drink, but what happens if they accidentally, or intentionally, get their hands on one of your energy drinks, such as Monster Energy, Five Hour Energy or Red Bull?
A recent study by the American Heart Association reports that 40 percent of the 5,156 calls about energy drinks to U.S. poison control centers (from October 2010 to September 2013) involved children under the age of six, many suffering from serious cardiac and neurological symptoms.
A Case of Too Much Caffeine
Brian Kaminski, DO, an ER physician at ProMedica Toledo Hospital says that he is also aware of an increase in emergency department visits for symptoms related to exposure to energy drinks among all age groups, including young children.
“By far, the most active substance in these drinks is caffeine,” Dr. Kaminski says. “Each drink contains different amounts of caffeine, but the amount can be as high as 500mg per can. This is the equivalent of five cups of coffee.”
It’s important to note that caffeine poisoning can occur at levels higher than 400mg a day in adults; above 100mg a day in adolescents; and 2.5mg per every 2.2 pounds of body weight in children younger than 12. For comparison, a can of soda or cup of tea typically contains 50mg per serving.
Dr. Kaminski explains that children and adults can be affected in various ways, depending upon the amount of caffeine consumed, as well as the underlying health of the individual. Negative reactions of too much caffeine may include agitation, psychiatric manifestations, anxiety, heart rhythm disturbance, seizures, and even death.
“Additionally, these drinks contain other natural substances such as taurine, guarana and ginseng that are not highly regulated and can produce symptoms as well,” Dr. Kaminski warns.
Reducing Energy Drink and Caffeine Exposures
So how are kids able to access energy drinks? According to Dr. Kaminski, most small children consume energy drinks because it is easily available in the house.
“The labeling and packaging of these drinks is very ‘kid friendly’ and many children and teens are lured by the marketing aspect of these drinks,” Dr. Kaminski says.
ProMedica Wellness dietitian, Nathan Drendel confirmed this idea. “Energy drinks are marketed to a population that is very vulnerable to yielding to consuming these products, whether that is children or adults,” Drendel says. “Anyone who needs an extra ‘boost’ to succeed is the target population. And unfortunately, a lot of people fall into this category because of how our society has progressed — to do more with less.”
This is where a little education goes a long way. Children may think it’s a good idea to consume energy drinks to help them stay awake longer, cram for an important test, or help them perform during the big game. But the truth is that energy drinks and children don’t mix, and the same outcome can come from healthy behaviors.
According to Drendel, it’s important for people to realize that regular physical activity and a nutritious diet will provide the body ample energy to push itself. “Once you get into a good routine with your diet and physical activity levels, the need for an outside boost becomes almost non-existent,” he says.
The best way to prevent your child from energy drink exposure is to not have energy drinks available in the house. And talk to your school-aged children and teens about the potential dangers of consuming too much caffeine.