Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Energy Drinks and Their Negative Effects on Teenagers

I sent this letter to my daughter's church after discovering that she was buying energy drinks at her Friday night youth group. While I fully expect that the fear of lost profits will outweigh the importance of our children's health (this is America after all), I wanted to post this publicly for other concerned parents to use in their own endeavors.

Energy Drinks and Their Negative Effects on Teenagers

Health researchers and nutritionists are warning parents, educators, and teens about the surprising dangers of energy drinks. The wide range of drinks, which include such popular brands as Amp, Full Throttle, Monster, and Red Bull, have been steadily gaining popularity over the past ten years. In fact, some studies show that nearly one-third of all teenagers regularly use energy drinks.

Unfortunately, in addition to several critical health risks, these drinks may also cause behavioral changes in the teens that drink them. This has forced some parents to lobby for their removal from schools, recreation centers, and churches. The problems related to these drinks are growing and we can expect to see them worsen as manufacturers continue to market directly to our kids.

According to Steven E. Lipshultz, MD, senior author of "Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults" published in Pediatrics, not only do energy drinks provide no nutritional value, many of the primary ingredients utilized in the drinks are unstudied. Unlike colas and soda brands which are considered a "food" by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration), energy drinks are considered a dietary aid. As such, they are not subjected to regulatory actions by the government and are not required to provide packaging information, such as the amount of caffeine or included supplements.

So what are the health concerns associated with energy drinks?

Beating Hearts, Racing Minds

While there are some underlying nutritional issues with energy drinks, the health risks for teens that consume them are much more concerning. Kids who abuse these drinks by imbibing several each day are prone to abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, jitters, and other more severe health problems.

Children like the caffeine buzz and few, if any, recognize the potential health hazards. In several schools across the country, administrators have banned the drinks after students were hospitalized following consumption. However, most schools and other places teens are likely to visit still offer these drinks for sale or in vending machines, leaving many students at risk.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), excessive ingestion of caffeine causes more than an energy rush. Research shows that caffeine can increase the effects of fibrocystic breast disease, blood vessel disease and heart disease. It can increase the rate of birth defects, impact reproductive health, and negatively impact behavior.

Caffeine Rage

While many parents and educators understand the signs and symptoms of alcohol or drug abuse, most are not even aware that regularly ingesting energy drinks can actually cause behavioral changes. A study in The Journal of American College Health, authored by Kathleen E. Miller, PhD, a leading researcher in the field of energy drinks, has drawn a direct correlation between high caffeine drinks and risky behaviors such as violence, unprotected sex, and drug or alcohol abuse.

Making The Change

Taking a step back, it becomes apparent that energy drinks are harmful to teenagers. Like any drug -- and caffeine is a drug -- the answer often lies in removing the temptation. Energy drinks, designed by marketers to attract teenagers, simply have no place in schools, recreation centers, or churches. In addition to the bright colors and other marketing tactics used, many teenagers assume the drinks must be safe simply because they can purchase them from trusted resources like schools and churches.

Too much caffeine is never a good thing and, for teenagers who have easy access to energy drinks, the risks are even greater. Removing energy drinks from our schools and churches is an effective way to protect our children from the potential health hazards and the phenomenon of caffeine rage.

Vending machines have their purpose. In our churches that purpose should not be selling high caffeine energy drinks to our children. Instead of waiting until more kids are harmed, please make a change now. I respectfully ask that you to remove these drinks from the places teenagers are likely to congregate within your congregation.

Energy drinks, should teens worry? (Video)

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