Inside: Energy drinks are popular with kids and teens. But what are the health effects of energy drinks? Are they safe for kids? Here are 10 energy drinks facts you should know.
If you’ve got a tween or a teen, you’ve probably had somebody (maybe your own kid!) come traipsing through your house carrying a tall, brightly-colored can of Prime, Bang, or other energy drink.
More kids than ever are using energy drinks–thanks in part to endorsements by celebrities and YouTube influencers. As many as 50 percent of adolescents and young adults report drinking them. And the sale of energy drinks is growing fast–billions of dollars are spent on them annually.
But are energy drinks actually safe for kids and teens? Here are 10 energy drinks facts you need to know.
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10 Things to Know About Energy Drinks and Kids
1. Energy drinks aren’t the same thing as sports drinks
Though they’re often lumped into the same category, sports drinks and energy drinks are different beverages.
Sports drinks are designed as a fast way to rehydrate. They were originally designed for elite athletes who needed to quickly replenish fluids, energy, and electrolytes lost through sweat. They usually contain water, sugar, and electrolytes like sodium and potassium (some contain artificial sweeteners instead of sugar).
On the other hand, energy drinks are designed to boost alertness, attention, and energy. They usually contain caffeine as the main active ingredient but can also include other substances like herbal additives, vitamins, and amino acids.
Some brands (like Prime) make both a hydration drink AND an energy drink–and it’s easy to confuse the two when buying them. For instance, Prime Hydration contains no stimulants while Prime Energy contains 200 mg of caffeine. That’s a big difference!
2. Energy drinks contain a lot of caffeine
Energy drinks contain much more caffeine than soda does. It’s not uncommon for energy drinks to contain as many milligrams of caffeine (mg) as a strong cup of Starbucks coffee–and in some cases, even more. And if kids are having more than one energy drink per day, or drinking soda and coffee as well, they can end up taking in very large amounts of caffeine.
Here are some popular energy drinks and the amount of caffeine they contain (plus how that compares to coffee and soda):
|DRINK||SIZE||CAFFEINE (MG)||SUGAR (G)|
|RedBull (original)||8.4 oz can||80||0|
|Monster (original)||16 oz can||160||54|
|Rockstar (original)||16 oz can||160||63|
|Mtn Dew Energy||16 oz can||180||4|
|Prime Energy||12 oz can||200||0|
|5-Hour Energy||1.93 oz bottle||200||0|
|Bang Energy||16 oz can||300||0|
|Reign||16 oz can||300||0|
|Starbucks Dark Roast||12 oz cup||195||0|
|Mountain Dew||20 oz bottle||91||77|
|Coke||12 oz can||34||39|
3. Caffeine can have adverse effects on kids
Caffeine is a drug that has a range of side effects on the body. Most adverse effects of energy drinks are caused by high amounts of caffeine.
In fact, Poison Control Centers regularly receive calls concerning caffeine. In 2005, they had more than 4600 calls with questions about caffeine. Of those calls, more than half involved people younger than 19.
According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the main health risks of using caffeinated energy drinks include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat and heart palpitations
- Sleep problems like insomnia
- Frequent urination
- Increased blood sugar (if the drink has a high sugar content, and some do)
For people who struggle with anxiety–and unfortunately, many young people do today– caffeine can also intensify the feelings.
Kids (just like adults) can also become reliant on caffeine. Regular consumption of energy drinks, or any caffeine-containing beverage, can lead to caffeine dependency and withdrawal symptoms including headaches, irritability, and even flu-like feelings for a while if they stop using them.
4. Energy drinks contain a lot of extra stuff (of questionable value)
Besides caffeine, energy drinks often contain many other substances. Here’s what some of these extra ingredients are:
- Guarana: An herb that contains caffeine
- Taurine: An amino acid that can have a caffeine-like effect on the body
- Creatine: An amino acid found in muscles
- L-carnitine: A chemical in the body that helps turn fat into energy
- Ginseng: An herbal additive used in alternative medicine
- B vitamins like B6 and B12: Vitamins that help convert food into energy
Some of these ingredients sound impressive, but do they actually work? Hard to say. Some of these beverages are considered supplements by the FDA and not regulated in the same way as foods and drinks are. So it’s hard to know whether the drinks contain meaningful amounts of these ingredients, whether these ingredients actually do anything–or if the ingredient is even in the product.
Case in point: The company that makes Monster Energy Drink recently sued Bang for false advertising because Bang claimed their beverage was a “miracle drink” that contained something called “Super Creatine”. Turns out, Bang didn’t even contain creatine.
Monster won the lawsuit, and Bang was ordered to stop promoting the false claim. (You’ll see the mandated statement about the verdict at the top of the Bang website now, though my grocery store was still selling cans with the “Super Creatine” claim.)
There are a lot of other appealing-sounding claims on labels (that aren’t proven or approved by the FDA and are simply marketing messages) like these:
- “Immune support”
- “Mental boost”
- “Enhanced sport performance
- “Potent brain and body fuel”
- “Body rocking fuel”
- “Vitalizes body and mind”
5. Energy drinks aren’t meant for kids
Many energy drinks are labeled that they’re not recommended for children under 18, women who are pregnant or nursing, or people who are sensitive to caffeine.
But even though the drinks says they’re not designed for kids and teens, that age group is definitely drinking them. In one study, more than 40 percent of 11-18 year olds reported having them in the last two weeks.
The packaging and marketing certainly feel aimed at a younger set, with brightly colored cans and graphics and flavors like Razzle Berry and Pacific Punch.
In fact, in a study of kids ages 11-18, one reason mentioned for buying energy drinks was “‘I like the can—it looked cool so I bought it”.
In a clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns against the use of energy drinks and says:
“Rigorous review and analysis of the literature reveal that caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”
The AAP cautions that adolescents shouldn’t have more than 100 mg of caffeine each day, but some energy drinks (like Reign) have triple that amount in one can. Health Canada sets their caffeine recommendation maximum daily amount at 2.5 mg per kg of body weight. That’s about 150 mg of caffeine for a 130-pound teenager–just half a can of Bang.
6. Energy drinks can cause real harm
There have been some deaths attributed to energy drinks as well as thousands of visits to the ER each year and frequent calls to poison control centers. In 2011, nearly 1500 kids ages 12-17 went to the emergency room in the United States for an energy drink related emergency, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
7. Some teens are mixing energy drinks with alcohol
Kids, especially teens and young adults, should understand the dangers of mixing energy drinks and alcohol.
In one survey, 10.6% of kids in grades 8, 10, and 12 and 31.8% of those ages 19-28 said they’ve had alcohol mixed with energy drinks at least once in the past year, according to the CDC.
The main trouble with mixing caffeine and alcohol (in drinks such as vodka + RedBull) is that you don’t feel the physical effects of the alcohol as quickly as you normally would. You feel awake and alert instead of tired and woozy, so you might keep drinking. That mixed message increases the risk of excessive drinking and all the possible serious dangers that come along with it.
Drinkers who combine alcohol with energy drinks are more likely to report unwanted or unprotected sex, driving drunk or riding with a driver who was drunk, or having alcohol-related injuries than those who don’t mix the two, according to the CDC.
8. Energy drinks aren’t good for young athletes
One reason teens give for using energy drinks is to improve sports performance. But some research finds that some teens don’t seem to understand the difference between energy and sports drinks. Kids looking to rehydrate and get a quick boost during sports may be taking in stimulants they don’t need–possibly at high doses.
It’s true that caffeine has been studied for potentially boosting athletic performance in adults. But caffeine doesn’t affect everybody in the same way–and there’s actually some research showing it may cause some athletes to be slower, says dietitian and sports nutrition coach Marie Spano, MD, RD, CSSD, CSCS.
Research around caffeine and sports performance has only been done with adults, not kids or teenagers. Spano says it’s best to follow the AAP’s advice for kids and teens to avoid energy drinks.
The National Federation of State High School Associations agrees. In their position statement, they warn that energy drinks shouldn’t be used by high school athletes in training or competition, citing multiple possible negative effects such as:
- Difficulty with fine motor control
- Bloating and cramping
- Irregular heartbeat
- Accidental positive drug tests
- Interactions with prescription medicines
9. Energy drinks can be bad for teeth
Both energy drinks and sports drinks can be tough on teeth, in the way soft drinks like soda, fruit punch, and juice are. It’s not only the sugar that’s the problem, though. Most have a pH in the acidic range thanks in part to citric acid, which is used as a flavoring and preservative.
Beverages are the leading cause of tooth decay in U.S. kids. Over time, these drinks can weaken tooth enamel, the protective covering on teeth that blocks decay–which can’t grow back if damaged.
If your kids regularly have sports drinks, energy drinks, soda, and sweet tea and drink them throughout the day, that’s important to know.
10. There are better ways to get energy
If kids and teens are looking for energy and hydration during sports, especially endurance sports or multi-hour events, a sports drink that contains carbohydrate fits the bill better (here’s a recipe for a simple homemade sports drink). Foods with a high water content like oranges and watermelon can help hydrate too.
Some caffeine might help enhance sports performance and mental focus, but energy drinks often contain much more than our kids need. High levels of caffeine can cause health effects like racing heart and heightened anxiety, which end up impacting performance in an adverse way.
A few simple things may be causing low energy in kids and teens:
- Not enough food: Eating regular meals and snacks can go a long way toward having enough energy. If you need ideas of healthy snack options, grab my list of 100 Snacks for Tweens and Teens and 20 Nutritious Sports Snacks For Kids.
- Not enough water: Dehydration can cause fatigue. Be sure you’re staying hydrated throughout the day and during sports practices and games. Water and milk (dairy or non-dairy) are great first beverage choices (read: What Are The Best Healthy Drinks For Kids?).
- Not enough sleep: Tweens need 9-12 hours a sleep, and teens need 8-10. But 60 percent of middle schoolers and 70 percent of high schoolers report inadequate sleep thanks in part to busy schedules, screens, and early school start times. Energy drinks are another reason kids may not be getting enough shut-eye, says Spano. If kids are drinking them after school or evening, the caffeine can stay in their system well into the night if they happen to be slow caffeine metabolizers. Here are some tips for helping your kid get more sleep.