By Jeffrey Bienstock, M.D.
Director of Pediatrics
The Valley Hospital
May 2, 2013 -- These days, it seems foods and drinks with added caffeine are everywhere –from sodas, to sports and energy drinks, potato chips, candy and now gum. The rapid growth in caffeine-infused foods and drinks has caught the attention of the Food and Drug Administration, which is considering placing limits on food makers' ability to add caffeine. Specifically, they want to investigate the safety of caffeine-infused foods and drinks and their effects on children and adolescents.
This trend warrants a look. There are potential health risks for children and adolescents who consume this stimulant. The latest recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that so-called energy drinks containing caffeine should never be consumed by children. Unfortunately children often confuse energy rinks with sports drinks.
Sports drinks contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring, and are intended to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. Although they may be useful for young athletes participating in prolonged, vigorous physical exercise, they tend to be overused and are usually unnecessary.
Unlike sports drinks, energy drinks contain stimulants including caffeine, guarana, and/or taurine. Rigorous review and analysis of the medical literature suggest that energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents. Because caffeine has been associated with harmful neurologic and cardiovascular effects in children, caffeine-containing beverages, including soda, and other foods with added caffeine should be avoided.
The AAP has issued recommendations that pertain to the use of sports drinks and energy drinks in children and adolescents, but can also be applied to other types of caffeine-infused foods. They include the following:
• Parents need to be made aware of the distinction between sports drinks and energy drinks. The terms should not be used interchangeably.
• Energy drinks should never be consumed by children or adolescents, because the stimulants they contain pose potential health risks.
• Children and adolescents should avoid routine consumption of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks, which can increase the risk for overweight, obesity, and dental erosion.
• For pediatric athletes, sports drinks should be consumed in combination with water during prolonged, vigorous physical activity, when rapid replenishment of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes is needed.
• For children and adolescents, water, not sports drinks, should be the principal source of hydration.