Many tweens and teens love sipping caffeinated energy drinks, but a new study from the University of Waterloo says more than half of Canadian youth and young adults who drink them have experienced negative effects, like a rapid heartbeat or nausea, as a result.
In Canada just last year, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) released a position statement saying that energy drinks and sports drinks are not only unnecessary—they could pose health risks for kids.
Energy drinks, which claim to help boost energy and concentration, typically contain more caffeine than is recommended for children. Plus, they have sugar levels that are comparable to soda. And sports drinks, which are marketed as a way to replace fluids and electrolytes that are lost when someone works up a sweat, are loaded with sugar that kids don’t actually need.
All of that sugar can contribute to obesity and cavities, and kids don't actually require the extra energy, says Catherine Pound, a paediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario who co-authored the statement. “Children need to be involved in vigorous activity for at least an hour before sports drinks should even be considered,” she says, explaining that it should be continuous activity (think, more than an hour of endurance running, not shifts on the ice over the course of a hockey game). “The vast majority of children will do just fine or will do better with water.”
Instead of kids relying on energy drinks for a boost, Pound has a back-to-basics recommendation: “What they need is a good night’s sleep and proper nutrition. Then they shouldn’t need the caffeine.”
Caffeine can disrupt sleep, raise heart rate and blood pressure, and even increase anxiety in some kids. Children may also become addicted to caffeine more easily than adults and then undergo symptoms of withdrawal.
“Children are smaller, so what may be harmful to adults will be harmful to a child way before then,” says Pound. She explains that kids with underlying illnesses or on stimulant medications (such as those prescribed for kids with ADHD) are more susceptible to the dangers of caffeine, which can even include heart arrhythmias in rare cases.
The position statement reports that kids as young as eight have seen negative effects from consuming energy drinks, but typically these drinks are more popular among teens. The CPS cites studies from various provinces where at least half of adolescent students report drinking the caffeine-filled beverages in the past year. And as kids get older, many mix alcohol with energy drinks—a practice that research has linked to other high-risk behaviours, like injuries or getting in the car with someone who has been drinking.
Pound recommends talking to kids about not using these beverages and seeking help from a doctor if your kid is already becoming addicted to caffeine.
Parents should also continue to offer water. Though H20 might not have the bright colours, artificial flavours or glitzy branding that sports and energy drinks have, it does have everything kids need to stay hydrated.