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Sharp Health News

Are energy drinks bad for teens?

Feb. 5, 2020

Are energy drinks bad for teens?

Between schoolwork, homework, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and college preparation, most teens lead busy lives. With so much to accomplish, teens may turn to energy drinks to help them stay awake and focused. But is all that caffeine good for them?

Erin Peisach, RDN, is a wellness education specialist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers. She explains why it’s best for teens to limit their intake of high-caffeine energy drinks.

One problem with energy drinks is that they take the place of healthier beverage options that can keep teens hydrated. When teens turn to energy drinks as their beverage of choice, they can easily push water aside.

Sugar galore
Another big problem with energy drinks is the amount of sugar they contain.

“These drinks are often loaded with added sugars, sometimes more than the recommended amount of sugar per day in just one bottle,” says Peisach.

Crazy caffeine
On top of all that sugar, excess caffeine can also be harmful to teens. Side effects of consuming too much caffeine include changes in heart rate, increased blood pressure, anxiety, sleep problems, digestive issues, headaches and dehydration. Typically, energy drinks can have more caffeine than soda and coffee.

Energy drink ~ 70 to 240 mg of caffeine in a 16-ounce can
Soda ~ 35 mg of caffeine in a 12-ounce can
Coffee ~ 100 to 150 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup

Caffeine’s effect on young people
All that caffeine can add up. Experts don’t know for sure whether caffeine has a different effect on teens than it does on adults because most research in that area was only conducted on adults. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics takes the position that “stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents.”

Teens aren’t always fully informed
“Adolescents are exposed to a lot of marketing around energy drinks and can sometimes consume these drinks without caution in mind,” says Peisach. “They often come in brightly colored containers and have eye-catching logos. They can seem more interesting to drink than other energy-boosting drinks, such as coffee.”

Another issue is that teens don’t always think to look at nutrition labels and when they do, those labels can be confusing.

“Sometimes the labels can be tough to interpret and it is not clear exactly how much caffeine is in the product,” says Peisach.

Other alternatives
While energy drinks may not be the best for teens, there are other energy-boosting snacks teens should consider.

“I recommend that teens looking for more energy eat a meal or snack every few hours, consisting of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds,” says Peisach. Some great snacks would be a handful of almonds or a cup of low-fat yogurt.

Staying hydrated and keeping blood sugar regulated can also help keep energy steady throughout the day. However, when it comes to getting more energy, Peisach says nothing compares to getting a good night’s sleep.

“No food will ever replace the health benefits of getting enough sleep, especially for teens,” she says.

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