Updated 8/7/2019: Note – as The Scientific Parent is no longer operational, I’ve copied my post as it was published on their site originally. This is a topic I feel very strongly about so I wanted to ensure this information remained available.
How concerned do parents need to be about the use of energy drinks in kids and teens? In the Green-Eyed Guide guest blog on The Scientific Parent, we review the three major details often left out of these conversations on caffeine, and how these details can dramatically boost our efforts to keep ourselves and our kids healthy and safe.
It appears so often in the news, “Energy Drink Consumption on the Rise in Kids, Teens.” Alarming headlines like this are a response to a study which measured caffeine consumption in minors over a ten year period. That study, published in Pediatrics in February 2014[i], shows how caffeine habits changed from 1999 to 2010. Unfortunately, this is just one of the latest examples of how the wrong details are emphasized in energy drink news stories, even in publications as reputable as Time magazine[ii].
There are three major details often left out of conversations on caffeine which could dramatically boost our efforts to keep ourselves and our kids healthy and safe.
Caffeine Consumption in Kids and Teens is Not as Bad as it Seems
Taking a closer look at the Pediatrics study, it’s not surprising energy drink consumption among minors has increased since 1999 – Monster Energy and Rockstar didn’t exist back then! What is surprising is how the total amount of caffeine consumed per day didn’t change after the energy drink boom.
The kids of 2010 were getting the same amount of caffeine per day as the kids of 1999, they were just getting it from different places.
Of all the caffeine consumers under 18, less than 10% get their caffeine from energy drinks. That statistic may seem low, especially considering all the negative press energy drinks have received and all the scrutiny energy drink companies are facing for whether or not they target minors. However, this statistic comes from the study in Pediatrics as well as a more comprehensive study by Penn State published in Food and Chemical Toxicology[iii].
The Penn State study included over 40,000 participants, selected so the demographics of the study match that of the US population, thus the data reflects the nation’s caffeine habits.
The data indicates 85% of the US population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage a day. Carbonated soft drinks contribute the most caffeine to the daily diet from age 2 to 17, at which point coffee becomes the number one source of caffeine.
This study confirmed:
- ~10% of teens get their caffeine from energy drinks
- ~70% from each age group get their caffeine from carbonated soft drinks
- The American Academy of Pediatrics[iv] says those < 18 years old should not have more than 100 mg caffeine
- Teens who do use energy drinks consume ~60 mg caffeine per day, which is less than the 100 mg limit
- For kids and teens, the total amount of caffeine (from all sources) is less than 100 mg caffeine
Blurred Lines of Beverages Foil Energy Drink Bans
Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar are the three best-selling energy drinks, but there are now over 500 different energy drinks on the US market. The most common ingredient is not caffeine, it’s vitamin B-12[v]. As more consumers demand clean labels and natural forms of caffeine (think green tea and goji berries), it’s getting harder to tell the difference between energy drinks and functional/wellness beverages.
These blurred lines also make it harder to say “no” to energy drinks. Would you get mad if your kid brought home a V8 V-Fusion? How about a Red Bull? Surprise – Red Bull and V-Fusion + Energy both have 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8
Health Canada’s brilliant solution to these blurred lines was to reclassify any and all caffeine-containing products as “food” and cap the amount of permitted caffeine from all sources at 180 milligrams per 8 ounces, or 400 milligrams per liter[viii]. Stealing a page from Health Canada’s playbook could help us close the loopholes of potential energy drink bans, and might even help us control the amount of caffeine added to food like chips, gum and jelly beans.
Ingredient Information and Dosage Details Make All the Difference
Most information on energy drink ingredients is either over-simplified (“vitamin B6 gives the body energy”) or too scientific (“thiamin becomes the coenzyme thiamin pyrophosphate and…”). To make smarter decisions about whether an energy drink is safe or not, we need to understand what key ingredients do. But understanding their function is not enough, we also need to ask about the dosage.
Paracelsus, the “Father of Toxicology”, proclaimed the difference between poison and medicine is the dosage. Too much vitamin B6 can damage the nerves. Taurine is an ingredient most people associate with energy drinks (and the myth about bull sperm). In fact, taurine helps balance the levels of calcium inside the heart muscle cells, which is why it’s a common treatment for congestive heart failure[ix].
As consumers, we need to be proactive about finding the amounts of the ingredients in our caffeinated beverages.
- A canned coffee drink with “Organic” and “All-Natural” may seem healthy, but it’s not a good choice if it has 60 grams of sugar.
- An all-natural energy drink with only 5 ingredients is still not a good option if the caffeine amount is more than 200 mg.
- When someone is hospitalized due to caffeine or energy drinks, it’s critical to know the amounts of the other ingredients so scientists can better understand whether it’s just the caffeine or some ingredient interaction which made the person ill.
As a community, we can truly improve our health and keep our kids safe from caffeine toxicity when we pay attention to these details. It’s misleading to say, “Energy drinks are dangerous; avoid them all.” With this blanket statement
(Note, this has changed since 2015 as I am now a mom to one energetic little boy and a couch potato bulldog. However, I kept this bio for nostalgia and to remain true to the original post on The Scientific Parent)
Danielle Robertson is the oldest of four children to a single mom. More than a sister, slightly less than a mom, Danielle has been and remains a very prominent figure in the lives of her brother and sister (twins), who will turn 18 in December. Author of “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks – How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely”, Danielle earned her master’s degree in Food Science/Food Biochemistry from the University of California Davis. She initiates and encourages open, honest dialog regarding energy drinks and caffeine with her siblings and followers on GreenEyedGuide.com
[i] Branum, A., Rossen, L., & Schoendorf, K. (2014). Trends in Caffeine Intake Among US Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 133(3), 386-393. http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2013-2877.
[ii] Sifferlin, A. (2015, July). Energy Drinks Have Doctors Worried. Time, The Answers Issue, 22-23.
[iii] Mitchell, D., Knight, C., Hockenberry, J., Teplansky, R., & Hartman, T. (2014). Beverage caffeine intakes in the U.S. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 63, 136-142. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2013.10.042.
[v] Caffeine Informer Staff. (2013, updated 2015, May 13). Energy Drink Ingredients and What They Do. http://www.caffeineinformer.com/energy-drink-ingredients.
[vi] Caffeine Informer Staff. Content of Drinks. http://www.caffeineinformer.com/the-caffeine-database.
[vii] Caffeine Informer Staff. (2010, updated 2014, Sept 11). The Coffee and Energy Drink Double Standard. http://www.caffeineinformer.com/the-coffee-and-energy-drink-double-standard.
[viii] Link, C. (2013, January 2). Health Canada caps caffeine in energy drinks, 28 companies forced to reformulate. http://newhope360.com/regulatory/health-canada-caps-caffeine-energy-drinks-28-companies-forced-reformulate.
[ix] Robertson, D. (2013). Are you a monster or a rock star: A guide to energy drinks: How they work, why they work, how to use them safely. S.l.: Booklocker.com.
Love this info? Want to learn more?
I’ve researched the science and safety behind energy drinks and their ingredients since 2003. This book is the culmination of my research:
- Get your copy of MY BOOK: “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks — How They Work