Report Finds Energy Drinks Risky for Kids
Researchers Says Poison Centers Are Getting Calls About Caffeine Overdoses in Children
Caffeine Overdoses in Kids continued...
What’s more, researchers say, parents may equate energy drinks to soda or sports drinks, when, in reality, they are very different.
Under FDA rules, soda can’t contain more than 71 milligrams of caffeine in every 12 ounces.
Energy drinks, on the other hand, are regulated as dietary supplements, a designation that means there are no limits on how much caffeine they can contain. Some are packed with as much as 500 milligrams per serving.
“It’s become kind of acceptable,” O’Brien says. “You wouldn’t put an espresso machine in a middle school cafeteria. Nobody in their right mind would do that. Everyone would be up in arms, and yet they think nothing of putting these products in the vending machines.”
Beverage Industry Responds
“When it comes to caffeine, it’s important to put the facts in perspective. Most mainstream energy drinks actually contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee. In fact, young adults getting coffee from popular coffeehouses are getting about twice as much caffeine as they would from a similar size energy drink,” says Maureen Storey, PhD, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association, in a news release.
“What we do know is that caffeine is one of the most thoroughly tested ingredients in the food supply today. It has been deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as more than 140 countries around the world,” the statement says. “Many of our member companies voluntarily list the amount of caffeine on their products’ labels and have provided caffeine content information through their websites and consumer hotlines for years.”
In its statement, the American Beverage Association also took issue with the reports of caffeinated overdoses reported to poison control centers, saying that the researchers had mischaracterized the data.
“Further, the review misinterprets the data from a 2007 study by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which reported more than 5400 caffeine cases from pharmaceutical exposures, not exposure to caffeine from foods or beverages.”
The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), for its part, says the researchers got it right.
“As indicated in the paper by Seifert et al., the category caffeine refers to a broad category of caffeine-containing products. The category includes approximately 300 products ranging from coffee to caffeine tablets and various diet aids. At the time of these reports, caffeine-containing energy drinks in the products database were also included in this category,” says Alvin C. Bronstein, MD, acting director of toxicosurveillance for the AAPCC and the medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.
What Parents Should Know
Energy drinks may be especially dangerous during sports, says John P. Higgins, MD, assistant professor of medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
The jolt of caffeine may interfere with something called coronary flow reserve, which is the ability of the arteries around the heart to dilate during intense exercise, a problem that may contribute to heart attacks and abnormal heart rhythms in athletes.
“The caffeine actually makes these arteries more likely to spasm and actually shut,” says Higgins, who recently reviewed the medical literature on energy drinks for paper published in November 2010 in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Caffeine and taurine, which are commonly combined in energy drinks, also makes the heart pound harder than caffeine would alone Higgins, says.
Other experts add that energy drinks may be harmful not just for what’s in them, but what they may replace, drinks like water and milk that hydrate and have minerals and protein that are important for growing bodies. And many are high in calories, which may contribute to obesity.