Energy drinks could pose health risk for teens

Energy drinks could pose health risk for teens

Energy drinks could pose health risk for teens


by Erica Heartquist & NBC's Tom Costello

Bio | Email | Follow: @EricaHeartquist

Posted on March 21, 2012 at 2:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 21 at 5:44 PM

PORTLAND -- High energy drinks have become very popular among teenagers and young adults in recent years as a way to get a quick caffeine-jolt any time, day or night. But health experts say they could also pose a serious risk.

"I drink Monster, yes, because it tastes good and gives me a buzz," said Isaac Ableidinger, a senior at Lincoln High School. Olivia Steele, also likes the high energy drink. Steele is a junior at Lincoln, "They just make me not tired so I can focus on homework or whatever I need to get done," she said. 

While they're very popular among teens, a new medical review finds energy drinks such as Monster, Red Bull, AMP and Rockstar have no health value and may even harm some kids.

"I can see them doing pretty bad for you and stuff. I mean, they're full of sugar and caffeine; not really many nutrients," said Dakota Hanson, a senior at Lincoln.

A study in the journal Pediatrics found the increasingly popular, highly caffeinated drinks are especially risky for children with heart abnormalities, attention-deficit Hyperactivity ADHD)or other health or emotional problems.

Some questions are being raised about the safety and regulation of the drinks after the death of a 14-year-old girl in Hagerstown, Maryland. Last December Anais Fournier suddenly went into cardiac arrest while at home.

Paramedics, then doctors worked for a week to save her, as she slipped into a coma. "We stayed up all night. I laid in bed next to her all night long...we talked to her and stayed with her," said Wendy Crossland, Anais' mother. Six days later, Anais died.

Doctors said the official cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity. Anais and her family knew she had a common heart defect known as a mitral value prolapse, but her doctor felt it posed little risk to her life. In the 23 hours before she went into cardiac arrest, Anais had consumed two 24-ounce high caffeine "Monster" energy drinks.

Each "Monster" can contains 240 milligrams of caffeine. Two cans is equal to fourteen 12-ounce sodas. That's nearly 5-times what's recommended in a recent pediatric study for teens and younger.

Monster told NBC: "We vehemently deny that drinking two cans of Monster energy by itself can cause a death from caffeine toxicity." Monster also insists its drinks contain less caffeine than some coffee.

"Between the caffeine, the sugar, its effects on blood pressure, potential adverse effects, I think it's really difficult to justify a case for children, young adults to be using these substances right now," said Dr. Allen Taylor, Georgetown University Hospital Chief of Cardiology.

That's not all: Emergency rooms across the country have seen a dramatic increase in caffeine overdoses. According to numbers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were 1,128 emergency room visits in 2005 linked to high energy drinks. The same study showed there were 16,055 in 2008 and 13,114 in 2009.

University of Maryland researcher Amelia Arria has studied the effects of the drinks on teens and young adults: "Individuals don't really know how much caffeine they're consuming because the label does not require disclosure of caffeine content," said Dr. Arria.

Despite years of studies calling for the FDA to regulate the drinks, that hasn't happened. The American Beverage Association told NBC it has adopted voluntary policies pertaining to energy drink labels and marketing to children. Some do offer warnings, but others do not.

Doctors have their own warning, "Is your child the one who has a predisposing condition where these could be truly dangerous? Is it worth the call from the emergency room?," asked Dr.Taylor.

While the FDA doesn't regulate the drinks, Virginia has banned their use by high school athletes.

Australia already regulates them. Canada is about to implement some of the tightest restrictions in the world.

"Probably if they knew the stuff in it, if they knew all the bad stuff, they'd probably stop [drinking them]," said Olivia Steele.