A LARGE group of American doctors have urged children and teens to avoid energy drinks and only consume sports drinks in limited amounts.
The recommendations come in the wake of international debate over energy drinks, which experts fear may have side effects.
“Children never need energy drinks,” said Dr Holly Benjamin, of the American Academy of Paediatrics, who worked on the report.
“They contain caffeine and other stimulant substances that aren’t nutritional, so you don’t need them.”
And children might be more vulnerable to the contents of energy drinks than grown-ups.
“If you drink them on a regular basis, it stresses the body,” Dr Benjamin said. “You don’t really want to stress the body of a person that’s growing.”
For the recommendations, published in the journal Paediatrics, researchers went through earlier studies and reports on both energy drinks and sports drinks, which do not contain any stimulants.
They note that energy drinks contain a jumble of ingredients — including vitamins and herbal extracts — with possible side effects that are not always well understood.
While there are few documented cases of harm directly linked to the beverages, stimulants can disturb the heart’s rhythm and may lead to seizures in very rare cases, Dr Benjamin said.
Recently, she saw a 15-year-old boy with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who came into the hospital with a seizure after having drunk two 700ml bottles of Mountain Dew, a soft drink that contains caffeine.
The boy was already taking stimulant ADHD medication, and the extra caffeine in principle might have pushed him over the edge, according to Benjamin.
“You just never know,” she said. “It’s definitely a concern.”
Earlier this year, Paediatrics published another review of the literature on energy drinks.
In it, Florida paediatricians described cases of seizures, delusions, heart problems and kidney or liver damage in people who had drunk one or more non-alcoholic energy drinks.
While they acknowledged that such cases are very rare, and ca not be conclusively linked to the drinks, they urged caution, especially in children with medical conditions.
Manufacturers claim their products will enhance both mental and physical performance, and were quick to downplay the February report.
“The effects of caffeine are well-known and as an 8.4oz (250ml) can of Red Bull contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee (80mg), it should be treated accordingly,” Red Bull said.
Dr Benjamin said that for most children, water is the best thing to quench their thirst. If they happen to be young athletes training hard, a sports drink might be helpful, too, because it contains sugar.
But for children who lead less-active lives, sports and energy drinks might just serve to pile on pounds, fuelling obesity.
While she acknowledged that more research is needed, Dr Benjamin said the safest thing to drink is water.