CHAMPAIGN – You probably wouldn't serve your kids double espressos to help them keep up with their school work.
So if they want to pop an energy drink to juggle all their activities, maybe they're doing too much, a local pediatrician advises.
"A child doing 19 things and trying to stay awake, do they need to be in all those things?" asks Dr. Brent Reifsteck, a pediatrician at Carle Foundation Physicians at Mattoon/Charleston.
Reifsteck said a study released Monday warning energy drinks are potentially dangerous to kids and teens should put parents and pediatricians on the alert.
The study made it clear the federal government regulates how much caffeine goes into a can of soda, he said, but manufacturers of energy drinks can add much more caffeine.
The Food and Drug Administration limits the amount of caffeine in a 12-ounce can of soda to 71 milligrams, but energy-drink manufacturers can get around this restriction by claiming their products are "natural dietary supplements," said the authors of the study, which was just published online in the journal Pediatrics.
"The bottom line is, when you consume the energy drinks, you don't know how much of it, and what you're getting," Reifstek said.
Almost half (46 percent) of caffeine overdoses in the U.S. in 2007 were among people under 19, the authors found.
"That's a significant exposure to the pediatric population," Reifsteck said.
The study found energy drinks are consumed by as many as one-third to one-half of adolescents and young adults and have been associated with serious side effects – especially in those with seizures, diabetes, heart abnormalities, or mood or behavioral abnormalities, or those taking certain medications.
Dangerous side effects tracked outside the U.S. have included liver damage, kidney failure, respiratory disorders, agitation, seizures, psychotic conditions, hypertension, heart failure and death.
U.S. poison-control centers have not tracked overdoses from energy drinks because they were classified as "caffeine" or "multi-substance exposures" and combined with other caffeine sources, but energy drinks were recently given unique reporting codes so their toxicity can be coded, according to the study.
Reifsteck said the research gives doctors an opportunity to help educate families about the potential dangers of energy drinks and to be on the lookout for their use, especially when athletes come in for school sports physicals.
"Kids are more likely to get medical information from other kids than a physician," he said. "If they hear somebody played really hard in a game because of this stuff, they'll go out and get it."