Parents may want to think twice before letting their child consume energy drinks. New research has confirmed that the high-sugar, high-caffeine beverages pose dangerous health risks for youngsters — including seizures, irregular heart rhythms, and heightened blood pressure.
More than 5,000 reports of energy drink poisonings were reported to the U.S. poison control centers between 2010 and 2013, according to a group of medical researchers who presented their findings during a meeting at the American Heart Association. Nearly half of the incidents involved children who didn’t know what they were drinking.
“Energy drinks have no place in pediatric diets,” study co-author Dr. Steven Lipschultz, pediatrician-in-chief at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, told Medical News Today. Nonetheless, 40 percent of the poisonings that his team tracked occurred among kids under the age of six.
Energy drinks represent part of a larger subset of energy products that include gels and bars. They have recently grown in popularity among people between the ages of 13 and 55, yielding annual sales of $9 billion. College-aged consumers particularly use energy drinks to weather the storm of term papers, exams, and extracurricular activities, accounting for the 10 percent annual increase in sales between 2008 and 2012.
The new study comes on the heels of calls to regulate the sale and marketing of these caffeinated beverages, particularly as some energy companies have targeted children as young as six in their marketing campaigns.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that energy drinks “are never appropriate for children and adolescents,” since caffeine consumption may harm kids’ developing neurological and cardiovascular systems. The American Medical Association has also called on energy drink manufacturers to stop marketing their products to people under the age of 18, citing the health risks of caffeine and other ingredients like taurine and I-carnitine, both naturally occurring amino acids.
Last year, a group of U.S. lawmakers pressured the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down on energy drink makers. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have repeatedly called on the agency to close loopholes that allow energy drink companies to sell products with particularly high levels of caffeine, as well as pressured those companies to stop selling their drinks to kids.
Unlike most caffeinated drinks, energy drink makers don’t always disclose the amount of the substance in each serving. A Consumer Reports investigation in 2012 found that many energy drink manufacturers producers either fail to reveal the level of caffeine in their products or underestimate it by 20 percent.
Earlier this year, the FDA released guidelines that representatives said would help manufacturers of beverage manufacturers determine the proper classification of their products, as well as reaffirm the legal requirements of what substances may be added to their drinks. But the agency stopped short of conducting a larger investigation into the potential health risks of energy drinks.
The slow regulatory action on this issue may be leading to serious consequences. Emergency room visits stemming from the consumption of energy drinks have increased in the last five years, according to government data. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has documented more than a dozen reports of death and more than 30 instances of serious injuries in the last four years connected to popular high-sugar, high-caffeine energy beverages such as Monster Energy Drink and Five-Hour Energy.
Some of these incidents have spilled into the headlines. The parents of a 14-year-old Maryland girl, for example, sued producers of Monster, claiming that the caffeine caused the teen to go into cardiac arrest after consuming two 24-ounce bottles within a 24-hour period. Monster was also the defendant in a lawsuit involving the family of a 16-year-old girl from Arizona who died from a heart attack while on a trip in Mexico. In that case, the girl’s mother said that she had been consuming nothing but the energy drink over the course of two days.
Experts like Lipshultz say that the onus falls on parents to ensure that their children don’t consume energy drinks as they would other beverages.
“[These children] didn’t go to a store and buy it; they found it in the refrigerator, or left by a parent or an older sibling,” Lipshultz told Live Science.