Duke University MURDOCK Study

MURDOCK Study Contributor Warns Against Children & Energy Drinks

December 16, 2014

Our kids are downing energy drinks at an alarming rate

Published in the Durham Herald Sun, November 22, 2014. Read the original article.

Written by Diane Uzarski, doctoral student at the Duke University School of Nursing and key contributor to the MURDOCK Study’s research on Alzheimer’s.


Diane Uzarski

As North Carolina begins its beloved college basketball season, fans of Duke, UNC and N. C. State can rest assured that the NCAA has done its due diligence to protect college athletes by restricting their caffeine use. However, a similar protection is missing for more than 19,000 North Carolina high school athletes beginning their basketball games this month.

As the parent of a high school athlete and former emergency room nurse, I have worked on public health policy issues to reduce injury in children. I am deeply concerned that energy drinks are being consumed by our young people at an alarming rate.  Published self-report surveys reveal that more than 30 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds regularly consume energy drinks, and their use is increasing rapidly. Consumption of these beverages seems widely accepted among middle and high school aged children, even as pediatricians are voicing concern. I watched a parent hand his son a Red Bull® before he entered a fencing bout with my daughter (Coincidentally, this was the only time she was wounded enough to draw blood under her protective equipment.) Authorities recognize that kids are bringing energy drinks to school to wake up and to drink before sporting events.

So, what’s the harm? Energy drinks are different than sports drinks like Gatorade. They are marketed to relieve fatigue, improve attention and increase performance. Take a look at the product labels on these drinks when you visit a grocery store. They are loaded with caffeine, sugar and stimulants such as guarana and taurine. A typical energy drink may have the same amount of caffeine as 10 cans of caffeinated soda! Interestingly, energy drinks are not heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and ingredients and quantities of the stimulant substances are not always listed.

Health experts warn that caffeine and stimulants are a dangerous combination when consumed by children with medical conditions like diabetes, seizures and heart or behavior problems.  Healthy youth athletes are experiencing adverse effects at an alarming rate. Four football players in Orange County, California, were taken to a hospital with rapid heart rates after ingesting a super-caffeinated drink in 2010. Last year, ESPN featured a high school athlete in Missouri who suffered a seizure and loss of breathing after consuming an energy drink. Over 20,000 Americans went to emergency rooms as a result of energy drinks in 2011, with health problems such as irregular and racing heartbeats, and increased blood pressure and blood sugar.  These numbers are predicted to increase significantly as they have each year as energy drink use increases. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that kids who consume energy drinks have an increased risk of physical dependence to caffeine, and are more likely to participate in other unhealthy behaviors like smoking, drinking and drug use.

Manufacturers of energy drinks clearly market them to young people, and are easily reaching our children through advertisements and social media. On Twitter, Monster® Beverages had 7,990 tweets and 1.79 million followers. These beverages are easily purchased by youth at grocery and convenience stores. I wonder how many people have read the very small print on many of these cans that states “This beverage is not to be consumed by children”.

In 2013, The American Academy of Pediatrics stated that energy drinks “should never be consumed” by children and young adults. They asked for public education, improved product labeling, research, and stronger federal guidance to protect children’s health. The NCAA’s Sports Medicine Handbook reads that “fluids containing supplement ingredients and caffeine may be detrimental to the health of the competitive athlete.” Athletic associations, school districts and counties nationally have joined the NCAA to educate and to develop policies that discourage or prohibit the use of energy drinks to protect kids, especially athletes.

Let’s begin the conversation with parent groups, coaches and school districts about this important health issue in North Carolina. We all share the responsibility to educate kids and parents that energy drinks should not consumed by children, and to adopt local policies that reduce energy drink use in our state’s homes and schools and on athletic fields. Let’s teach our kids that these companies are targeting them as consumers, and not placing a priority on their well-being when doing so. To counter enticing ads and tweets, kids need to get a clear message from their communities that they are capable of being energetic students and athletes by simply getting sufficient rest, eating nutritious foods and drinking water.

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