Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Energy drinks knocked again

Taya Flored • Journal and Courier • February 15, 2011

Kenneth Fisher, a freshman at Lafayette Jefferson High School, started occasionally drinking energy drinks in sixth grade. And now he's hooked.
The 16-year-old drinks at least five of them in a week, and sometimes several a day.

"It keeps me going," he said. "It keeps me focused. Most of the time I can just pay attention better to what people are saying."

However, a new report published online Monday warns that energy drinks are overused, under-studied and can be harmful for children and teens, causing heart palpitations, seizures, strokes and even sudden death. Consequently, the doctors who authored the report, which was published in the medical journal Pediatrics, are advising adolescents to avoid drinking the energy-boosting beverages.

The report says some cans have four to five times more caffeine than a typical soda. So drinking one 16-ounce Monster Energy that has 160 milligrams of caffeine would be similar to drinking 41/2, 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola Classic, according to data from mayoclinic.com

The Monster Energy drink has only a slightly higher caffeine content than, say, a 16-ounce Starbucks Vanilla Latte, which has 150 milligrams of caffeine, according to starbucks.com. But the report focuses on energy beverages, which are highly popular among teens -- including local teens.

"I see a bunch of people drinking Monsters all the time," said Karrie Keating, a freshman at Jeff.

Introduced more than 20 years ago, energy drinks are the fastest growing U.S. beverage market; 2011 sales are expected to top $9 billion, the report said. It cites research suggesting that about one-third of teens and young adults regularly consume energy drinks. Yet research is lacking on risk from long-term use and effects in kids -- especially those with medical conditions that may increase the dangers, according to the report.

Some Greater Lafayette pediatricians also say that adolescents should stay clear of these energy beverages.

Dr. Ann Oliver, a pediatrician with Unity Healthcare, said caffeine is a drug and a central nervous system stimulant. Taken in high levels it can have the serious adverse affects mentioned in the report, she said. Short of that, teens can also suffer from irritability, mood swings and personality changes, such as being easily angered, aggressive or impulsive. High amounts of caffeine can also cause insomnia, she said.

"We get a lot of parents calling in about teens who cannot sleep," she said.

Dr. Donald Fahler, a pediatrician with Indiana University Health Arnett, said these drinks are typically high in sugar content as well, which can lead to obesity and type II diabetes in adolescents.

"If kids are going to drink pop, they drink the regular and stay away from the diet," he said. "The caffeine has more short-term effects, and the sugar has more long-term effects."

Dr. Thomas Padgett, a pediatrician with Pediatric Associates of Lafayette, said he agrees with the authors that adolescents shouldn't be drinking caffeine at all, especially kids who are younger than 5 years old. But many kids this age are already drinking caffeinated beverages, he said.

So, he said, parents should limit their caffeine intake to 100 milligrams a day. For older kids, they should cut back if they start experiencing side effects such as feeling jittery, insomnia, headaches or dehydration, which can be a problem for student athletes.

Erika Keating, a 15-year-old freshman at Jeff, said she typically drinks energy beverages to give her a boost for sports.

"I drink them when I'm really tired, like during soccer practice to help me stay awake," she said.

But given the known side effects of large amounts of caffeine, she said she is planning to cut back on the energy drinks in the future.

"It's very addicting," she said. "I don't want to be a person who wastes their money on energy drinks, because it's a bad habit."

Fisher said he's already started to cut back to avoid an even stronger addiction.

"I haven't had a energy drink all weekend," he said. "I'm pulling away from that."

Contributing: The Associated Press

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