Does Your Child Consume Too Much Caffeine?

Many of our kids are “hooked” on energy drinks and soft drinks. Do you know the amount of caffeine in some 500 mL energy drink is equal to caffeine in 10 cans of cola? And we allow our children to drink that.

On October 19, an editorial – “Caffeinating” children and youth – in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) says, “Owing to inadequate labelling requirements, a lack of awareness of caffeine’s harmful effects and marketing campaigns that appeal to children and youth, this is precisely what we are unwittingly allowing in Canada and elsewhere.”

The editorial says that the energy drinks are very effective high-concentration caffeine delivery systems. These sugar-loaded syrups typically contain 80 to 140 mg of caffeine per 250 mL – the equivalent caffeine in one cup of coffee or two cans of cola.

Children who are looking for more caffeine go for drinks which have caffeine concentrations as high as 500 mg per can in US products such as Wired X505TM and FixxTM. Caffeine can also be purchased in 100- and 200-mg tablets in Canada and the United States.

“However, even tablets with two and one-half to five times less caffeine have mandatory health warnings guarding against use in children and cautions to limit use because too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness and occasionally, rapid heart rate,” says the CMAJ editorial.

The question is: Caffeine-loaded energy drinks – are they beverages or drugs delivered as tasty syrups?

Health Canada has to do a better job of regulating products heavily loaded with caffeine. The food labels should clearly say how much caffeine is in the product. These labels should be easily understood by the general public – content of caffeine equivalent in terms of cups of coffee.

Can you compare energy drinks marketed towards youth and consumption of coffee by adults? For example, a 16-oz “grande” coffee at Starbucks contains 330 mg of caffeine. That is lot of caffeine. The editorial says, “Children and youth are notorious for making poor health choices. They can hardly be expected to make appropriate decisions about consuming energy drinks when information on caffeine concentration and appropriate safe amounts is not visible on these products.”

Adolescents and college students often mix energy drinks with alcohol. This is dangerous Studies have shown that the high levels of caffeine can mask the perception – but not the consequences – of acute alcohol intoxication.  

In a survey, college students who mixed alcohol with energy drinks were three times more likely to leave a bar highly intoxicated and four times more likely to drive while intoxicated than bar patrons who did not mix alcohol with energy drinks or drank them separately, says the CMAJ article.

A study of 100 US adolescents aged 12 to 18 found that 73 per cent consumed 100 mg or more of caffeine per day, with most consumption in the evening, the time of day most likely to negatively affect sleep. Poor sleep quality and quantity in adolescents has been associated with mood disorders, exacerbation of asthma, obesity, lower sense of well-being and poor school performance.

CMAJ is asking regulatory authorities such as Health Canada to step in. Regulations could include government-mandated restrictions on labelling, sales and marketing, or self-imposed industry-wide standards with clear labelling accompanied by public education.

Until 2008, France did not even allow the sale of Red BullTM, and in Denmark, sale was prohibited as of 2009. At a minimum, all products with caffeine levels exceeding 100 mg should have labels and advertising that carry warnings comparable to those required for caffeine tablets. There should be no advertising targeting children.  We should invest in public education focused on the health consequences of caffeine in children.

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