You’ve seen the headlines claiming energy drinks make kids sick and harm their health.
Now, Canada’s association of pediatricians is taking a hard stance: if you’re under 18, you should avoid all sports drinks and energy drinks, the Canadian Paediatric Society is warning in a new position statement.
The statement comes on the heels of reports that point to the dangers of kids drinking energy drinks and even reports of youth being hospitalized because of lack of tolerance.
“The CPS is realizing how endemic the consumption of sports and energy drinks seems to be.
“More and more young adults are consuming them – because they’re harmful, we wanted to put out a statement so all physicians were on the same page and warn the community about the problems tied to these beverages,” Dr. Catherine Pound, the statement’s co-author and a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, said.
“The CPS decided it was the right time to jump on this issue. There’s really no reason for kids to drink sports drinks,” Pound said.
Reports have pointed to kids, six years old and younger, turning up in hospital with abnormal heart rhythm, seizures and dangerously high blood pressure because they consumed energy drinks.
Energy drinks can contain pharmaceutical-grade caffeine and additional caffeine from natural sources – this is why kids’ hearts race and their blood pressure levels climb.
Some beverages contain up to 400 milligrams of caffeine in a can or bottle – a cup of coffee contains about 150 milligrams in comparison.
“We get concerned with caffeine because [kids] are smaller in body size and in body weight. They have a lack of tolerance compared to adults and the drinks are associated with a wide range of side effects,” Pound said.
READ MORE: Caffeine common for kids, even preschoolers
They also contain about 10 teaspoons of sugar, making them saccharine-sweet and encouraging kids to drink more.
Sports drinks contain electrolytes and other minerals, but that’s not what’s worrisome to the pediatricians. It’s the sugar content, once again.
“They’re high in sugar which could lead to children being overweight. It contributes to obesity and dental caries,” Pound said.
Only a small subset of Canadian youth need to rely on sports drinks – it’s those who are athletes playing for long period of time, or in hot, humid weather, according to Pound.
“The vast majority of kids doing regular sporting activity don’t need sports drinks. Water does the trick for rehydration,” Pound said.
Pound said the position statement comes on the heels of a growing number of reports of kids getting physically ill from these drinks.
In 2014, U.S. poison control centres said they received more than 5,100 calls about energy drinks, and 40 per cent of the time, it’s kids encountering heart problems and neurological symptoms.
The risks even extend to adults: French researchers said that overconsumption is tied to angina, cardiac arrhythmia and even “sudden death.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against caffeine consumption for children and teens because of potentially harmful effects from the mild stimulant, including increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and worsening anxiety in those with anxiety disorders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) called energy drinks a “danger to public health,” especially among young people.
WHO health officials are concerned with the beverages because they can be consumed quickly, unlike hot coffee, and can lead to caffeine intoxication.
Aside from heart palpitations, the WHO review pointed to nausea, vomiting, convulsions and even death, which has been reported in the U.S., Sweden and Australia.
It’s calling for measures, such as establishing a limit on how much caffeine is allowed in a single serving, enforcing tighter labelling regulations and creating restrictions for marketing energy drinks to youth.
In Canada, it’s illegal to advertise and market energy drinks to youth, but Pound notes that it’s hard to police. The drinks’ packaging is bright and edgy – that alone draws youth in.
She’s hoping the CPS statement gets into the hands of doctors, families and policy-makers.
“I don’t think everybody is aware of [the risks], which is why it’s important to push it out right now. It’s one thing for physicians and the population to get involved but at the end of the day, I’m hoping it’ll generate discussion at the policy level,” Pound said.
The Canadian Beverage Association says it’s important for consumers to know the difference in composition and functionality between sports drinks and energy drinks.
“Sports drinks are functional beverages that help people hydrate before, during and after vigorous exercise. They can provide nutrients and quickly replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during physical activity or exposure to high temperatures. They are not intended to replace water as a source of hydration but are complimentary to the water that many athletes drink as well,” the CBA said in a statement.
“To provide parents with more control over what their children consume at school, in 2006 the beverage industry voluntarily removed all full-calorie soft drinks from schools nationwide,” the statement said.
The full position statement was published early Tuesday morning.
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