Although sports drinks and energy drinks are marketed heavily toward children and teens, a leading association of pediatricians is sounding the alarm about these beverages for kids.
Young children and teens should avoid energy drinks entirely, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a report issued Monday, and routine consumption of sports drinks should be limited or eliminated.
"There's no place for energy drinks for kids," said report co-author Dr. Marcie Beth Schneider, an adolescent physician in Greenwich, Conn. "There's a place for sports drinks, but that place is very specific."
Energy drinks include such popular brands as Red Bull, AMP and Rockstar and tend to be heavily caffeinated, potentially having several times the level of caffeine found in a cup of coffee. Manufacturers often add sugar and herbal stimulants such as guarana and taurine to the drinks, which are popular among kids.
The caffeine and herbal stimulants found in energy drinks can be dangerous to kids, the researchers noted. Some cans or bottles of energy drinks, in fact, may contain more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to the caffeine found in 14 cans of caffeinated soda, according to Schneider.
The caffeine in energy drinks can lead to high blood pressure, high heart rate and insomnia, said Schneider. The other ingredients can boost the power of the caffeine, she said, adding that the drinks will have a greater effect on children because they're smaller than adults.
"Kids don't need to have this," she said. "This is not something they should be drinking."
Schneider declined to identify any energy drinks that may be better than others for kids who insist on drinking them. If kids use energy drinks because they're tired, she said, they should get more rest instead of chugging caffeine. "It's not a solution," she said.
The manufacturer of Red Bull defended its drink, saying a can has about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee and includes ingredients that European health officials have declared to be safe. However, users of energy drinks may chug them more quickly than they would hot coffee because they're served cold.
The authors of the current report and a study published in the journal Pediatrics last February pointed to statistics that showed about half of the nation's 5,448 reported caffeine overdoses in 2007 were in people under age 19, although it's not known how many of the cases were the result of energy drink consumption.
The study also reported that many teens consider energy drinks and sports drinks interchangeable, which they are not.
Sports drinks like Gatorade -- designed to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise -- have been around for decades, but they now come in a wider selection of flavors and types. The report raps them for coming with too many calories and potentially boosting the risk of obesity, weight gain and dental erosion. Most kids will do just fine drinking water instead, Schneider said.
However, "kids who are doing a lot of vigorous aerobic activity can benefit from sports drinks," she said. "For the rest of the crowd, it certainly doesn't need to be served at lunch. We want kids to be focusing on water and calcium."
If kids insist on sports drinks, Schneider said there are low-calorie types to consider.
The report appears in the May 30 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Dr. David Weldy, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Toledo, said he hasn't seen young patients report problems due to energy drinks, and he acknowledged that direct evidence saying that they're harmful is lacking.
"There isn't a whole lot of research into these things," Weldy said.
But the drinks do seem to keep kids from sleeping and cause concentration problems, he said, and they may also dangerously boost the heart rate.
Weldy said that doctors should talk to kids about both energy and sports drinks as part of discussions about nutrition. "It should be part of the conversation a lot more," he said.