7 Side Effects Of Energy Drinks For Kids & Its Alternatives

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Energy drinks boost energy levels and improve mental alertness due to their high caffeine content. But are energy drinks for kids? Unfortunately, no. These beverages have proven negative effects, making it not advisable to serve them to children and adolescents.

But, due to a common misconception, children and adolescents tend to confuse energy drinks with sports drinks. As a result, they may accidentally consume more energy drinks for the sake of hydration. Hence, it is important to teach them the harmful effects of energy drinks.

In this post, we elaborate on the harmful effects of these ready-to-drink energy beverages and discuss the differences between energy drinks and sports drinks. We also suggest a few healthier alternatives to energy drinks.

Energy Drinks Vs. Sports Drinks

Children need to understand the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks. Sports drinks are fluids used for hydration during strenuous activity. In contrast, energy drinks are beverages used to boost energy and enhance athletic performance.

Typically, an energy drink contains sugar, antioxidants, vitamins, and caffeine. On the other hand, sports drinks primarily contain sugar and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, but no caffeine. According to experts, children and teens across ages don’t require energy drinks. However, sports drinks can be useful for young athletes engaging in prolonged, vigorous physical activities.

The sugar in sports drinks provides energy during strenuous activity, and the electrolytes replenish lost salts, helping the muscles work properly. Yet, whether a child indulging in strenuous sports should take sports drinks is a decision one should make in consultation with a sports nutritionist or pediatrician.

Note: Vitamin Water is another ready-to-drink beverage that is marketed to boost a child’s health. This product mainly contains vitamins and minerals. However, it may also contain sugar, caffeine, and other herbal ingredients. Thus, experts recommend against Vitamin Water use for children for hydration.

Why Are Energy Drinks Bad For Children?

According to experts at Seattle Children’s Hospital, there are two reasons why energy drinks for children aren’t a good choice.

First, energy drinks are marketed as dietary supplements, which do not undergo the U.S. Food And Drug Administration’s (US FDA) rigorous safety checks. The absence of safety checks increases the chances of these products containing hidden ingredients, such as herbs and chemicals, in unknown quantities.

Second, energy drinks contain several questionable ingredients, such as caffeine, in high and unregulated amounts that can adversely affect a child’s health in the long run. Besides caffeine, some other common ingredients in energy drinks that may be harmful to children include

  • Sugar, i.e., high-fructose corn syrup
  • Stimulants such as taurine and L-carnitine
  • Herbs such as ginseng and guarana

The next section discusses the effects of each of these ingredients on a child’s health.

Possible Health Risks Of Energy Drinks For Children

Generally, there are two kinds of energy drinks available in the market. Both contain similar ingredients but vary in serving size. The first types come in containers that are the same size as regular soda, such as a 16 oz can, whereas the other type, known as energy shots, comes in small containers containing two to two-and-a-half ounces of concentrated energy drink.

Consuming either of these energy drinks can raise several short- and long-term health concerns, such as:

  1. Anxiety and insomnia: Experts at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry advise young children to avoid caffeine intake and limit the intake to no more than 100mg for children between 12 and 18 years.

The caffeine content can be much more than labeled in energy drinks due to the presence of additional stimulants, such as guarana, a plant product/extract that also contains caffeine.

High caffeine intake can impact the central nervous system (CNS) and lead to anxiety and insomnia. Besides these, some of the other adverse effects of caffeine-containing energy drinks that children may experience are:

    • Jitteriness
    • Difficulty maintaining attention
    • Restlessness

Note: Regular consumption of caffeinated energy drinks can lead to caffeine dependence in children and teens. In such cases, when they quit energy drinks, they may develop caffeine withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, drowsiness, and chronic fatigue.

  1. Obesity and type-2 diabetes: Energy drinks contain high amounts of sugar or sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup. Excessive consumption of sugar raises the risk of unwanted weight gain, obesity, and type-2 diabetes. Caffeine can further exacerbate these problems as it’s known to reduce insulin sensitivity in a dose-dependent manner, meaning the higher the caffeine intake, the more the dip in insulin sensitivity.
  1. Appetite suppression: Energy drinks contain significant amounts of sugar, almost equivalent to or higher than the amount of sugar found in soda. Glucose, high fructose corn syrup, and sucrose are the sugar forms usually found in energy drinks. Consuming these sugars in high amounts can load a child’s tummy and suppress their appetite for other foods. Also, the high amounts of caffeine in energy drinks can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), causing enhanced satiety and hunger suppression.
  1. Dehydration: Apart from being a stimulant, caffeine also has diuretic effects. Hence, excessive consumption of caffeine, especially when the child or teen is doing vigorous activity in hot climates, can increase fluid loss from the body, resulting in dehydration. Furthermore, sodium loss through urine is another physiological effect of caffeine consumption that can worsen dehydration.
  1. Dental cavities: Energy drinks have a low pH and high sugar content. Both of these factors cause enamel erosion, leading to tooth decay in children. According to a study published in General Dentistry, energy drinks can do more harm to tooth enamel than sports drinks. Thus, children who consume such products should brush their teeth within half an hour after consuming them.
  1. Bone loss: Children require optimum levels of calcium for proper growth and development. Consumption of high amounts of caffeine is linked to lower calcium absorption (bioavailability) and increased calcium excretion, contributing to bone loss.  Hence, energy drinks aren’t a good choice for them.
  1. Hypertension and arrhythmia: Research studies demonstrate that energy drinks can cause an increase in both heart rate and blood pressure. Hence, overconsumption can lead to adverse outcomes, such as hypertension and arrhythmia. The main cause of these is the effect of caffeine on the autonomic nervous system.

In addition, excess energy drink consumption can cause children and teens to exhibit high-risk behaviors. Although rare, excessive energy drink consumption can cause seizures, manic episodes, stroke, and even death.

Adverse effects of excess energy drink consumption can be particularly harmful in children with pre-existing conditions such as asthma or chronic heart disease. In such cases, energy drinks can also interfere with medications used to treat these conditions.

Healthy Alternatives To Energy Drinks

Water is the best source of hydration for children across ages. But if you are looking for options that provide hydration and energy, you can give your child the following healthy natural beverages.

  • Coconut water
  • Buttermilk
  • Homemade vegetable juices
  • Unsweetened and naturally flavored water
  • Unsweetened and low-fat cow’s milk

Energy drinks for kids are not recommended since they are high in sugar and caffeine. They may also contain ingredients that are detrimental to kids’ health, such as stimulants like taurine and L-carnitine and herbs like ginseng and guarana. These beverages might cause anxiety, insomnia, appetite suppression, and dehydration in the short term. Further, they can lead to chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and dental cavities. Therefore, encourage your child to avoid energy drinks. Instead, have them drink healthy beverages such as coconut milk, homemade vegetable juice, or buttermilk, which could help their growth and development.

Key Pointers

  • Energy drinks are often confused with sports drinks, but both are different.
  • According to experts, children and adolescents don’t require an energy drink.
  • Energy drinks contain ingredients such as caffeine and sugar, which can cause several short and long-term effects, such as anxiety, dehydration, and insomnia.
  • Educate your child/teen to opt for healthy beverages, such as plain water, lemonade, coconut water, buttermilk to replace energy drinks.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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Dr. Jessica Madden

(MD, FAAP, IBCLC)
Jessica Madden is a pediatrician, neonatologist, lactation consultant, and mother of four, who has been taking care of newborns since 2001. She works as a neonatologist in the NICU at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and founded Primrose Newborn Care, a newborn medicine and “4th trimester” home-visiting and telemedicine practice, in 2018.  Dr. Madden is a Fellow... more

Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more