Study Highlights Risks of Energy Drinks in Children and Teens

November 17, 2014 — U.S. poison control centers receive thousands of calls involving children under 6 years old who consumed energy drinks, with some reporting serious neurological and cardiovascular side effects, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014.

Out of 5,156 calls involving energy drinks, 40% were accidental exposures in young children. Consuming more than 2.5-mg of caffeine per kg (2.2 lbs) of body weight in children under 12 years old can lead to caffeine poisoning.

Some energy drinks contain up to 400-mg of pharmaceutical-grade caffeine per bottle — up to 4-times as much compared to a typical cup of coffee.

Teenagers should limit their consumption of caffeine to no more than 100-mg per day, but sensitivity varies. Higher amounts can cause side effects like anxiety, dizziness, headache, neurological side effects, heart problems, and caffeine toxicity.

The lead researcher on the study, Dr. Steven Lipschultz, warned:

“Energy drinks have no place in pediatric diets. And anyone with underlying cardiac, neurologic or other significant medical conditions should check with their health care provider to make sure it’s safe to consume energy drinks.”

Moderate or major side effects were reported in 42% of cases involving energy drinks mixed with alcohol, and 19% of non-alcoholic drinks. Of the major side effects, 57% involved cardiovascular problems, such as abnormal heart rhythm, and 55% involved neurologic effects, such as seizures.

Dr. Lipschultz also noted that the statistics probably underestimate the problem because many people who get sick do not call a poison control center. The data also does not include emergency room visits.

Researchers called for new labeling requirements that would explain the risks, especially for teenagers. Marketing for many energy drinks aggressively target young people who have a lower tolerance for caffeine poisoning than an adult.

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