A 16-year-old boy from South Carolina died after consuming too much caffeine within a two-hour time frame last month.
Davis Allen Cripe, a student at Spring Hill High School, collapsed in class on Apr. 26 after consuming a large Mountain Dew, a McDonald’s latte and an energy drink. He later died in the hospital from a caffeine-induced heart arrhythmia.
The tragedy has once again shed light on caffeine consumption in youth.
According to a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatrics, 73 per cent of children in the U.S. consume some form of caffeine daily. Although the study noted that caffeine intake hasn’t risen among this age group in recent years, it has shifted away from caffeinated soda to energy drinks and coffee.
In another, much smaller study conducted by Brescia University College in London, Ont., researchers found that 44.6 per cent of adolescents (most of whom were in grades 9 and 10) consumed caffeine between one and six times per week. Daily consumption was reported by 11.4 per cent of teens and only 4.8 per cent never consumed it.
The teens surveyed reported caffeine’s ability to keep them alert and help with studying as the most common reason for consuming it. However, a large number of them said they were aware of its negative effects.
“By developing more comprehensive educational strategies and enhancing policies, it may be possible to decrease caffeine use in adolescents and mitigate the potential health risks,” senior study author Dr. Danielle S. Battram said in a statement.
Dr. Karen Leslie, a pediatrician and team lead for the adolescent substance abuse program at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital, says that while a caffeine overdose isn’t a common occurrence, there are a host of other complications that can arise when teens consume caffeine, including anxiety, sleep disruption and exacerbated physical tics. It can also interfere with medications, like those taken for ADHD, and affect overall growth and development.
“It’s socially acceptable in our culture to consume caffeine, but I don’t think people necessarily associate it with a problem they’re having,” she said to Global News. “If a kid is having panic attacks or anxiety or heart palpitations, the cause could be caffeine.”
While she’s hesitant to say it’s OK for kids to consume caffeine or any other addictive substance even in small quantities, Health Canada sets the guidelines at 45 mg for kids aged four to six, 62.5 mg for kids seven to nine, and 85 mg for kids 10 to 12.