Research Links Energy Drinks to Behavior Problems

Kids and energy drinks
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The news is often filled with warnings about the latest foods, dyes, and ingredients kids are consuming. And it’s likely to come as no surprise that energy drinks have been added to the list of unhealthy drinks for kids. But the latest research shows that energy drinks aren’t only bad for a child’s physical health – consuming energy drinks can also have a negative impact on a child’s behavior.

What the Research Says

Researchers from Yale School of Public Health surveyed 1,649 students in 5th, 7th, and 8th grade about the types of drinks they consumed and then assessed their level of inattention.

They discovered that the students who consumed sweetened energy drinks were 66% more at risk for hyperactivity, compared to other kids. The results of the study have been published in Academic Pediatrics.

Although soda also contains caffeine, it was energy drinks that seemed to have a negative impact on kids’ behavior. The authors suggest that the caffeine mixed with the other ingredients in energy drinks may be working with the caffeine to wreak havoc on a child’s attention span. The authors also report that about one-third of the teenagers in the United States are consuming energy drinks regularly.

What’s in Energy Drinks?

Popular energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, and Rock Star contain large doses of caffeine – often more than twice as much as the average soda. They also contain other stimulants, like guarana and ginseng, which are said to enhance performance. But many of these supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA.

Additionally, energy drinks contain large amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners.

There isn’t a lot of research yet about the effects of the additives in energy drinks. While some ingredients are naturally consumed in foods, energy drinks provide them in much higher quantities. More research is needed to determine how these ingredients impact a child’s developing body and brain.

Other Concerns About Energy Drinks

In addition to increased hyperactivity and inattention, energy drinks have been linked to adolescent health problems. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports 20,783 emergency room visits in 2011 were related to energy drink consumption. Of those visits, 1,499 were made by adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a clear stance in recommending that children not consume any energy drinks. Doctors warn that the dangers of children and adolescent consumption of energy drinks may include: increased blood pressure, increased anxiety, sleep disturbances, physical dependence and addiction to caffeine, irregular heartbeats, and even death.

What Parents Can Do

Kids often don’t understand the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks. While a sports drink may provide carbohydrates that help replenish electrolytes lost during physical activity, energy drinks contain stimulants like caffeine.

Often, parents are even recommending kids consume energy drinks while they’re participating in sports.

It’s important to educate yourself about what constitutes an energy drink. Many energy drinks are packaged and marketed in a way that make them appear to be kid-friendly. It’s important for kids to understand that they can be potentially dangerous.

It’s not enough to simply refuse to buy your child an energy drink. Instead, you need to ensure your child understands why you won’t buy them. That way, when your child is offered an energy drink from a friend – or even a well-meaning parent – your child will understand why it’s important to decline. Talk about the dangers and discuss healthier alternatives.

Reducing all sugary and caffeinated drinks can be important for your child’s health and overall behavior management. A healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and lots of exercise can be some of the most natural ways to prevent hyperactivity and inattention.

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