Energy drinks are the beverage of choice for many adolescents.

But should adolescents consume energy drinks?

No, according to a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The report, "Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?" was published in June 2011.

"There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products," said Marcie Beth Schneider, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and co-author of the report. "Some kids are drinking energy drinks - containing large amounts of caffeine - when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise. This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous."

Sports drinks contain carbohydrates, minerals and electrolytes and are intended to replace what is lost through sweating when exercising. 

Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and other ingredients. The combined effects of caffeine and some of these other stimulants, such as guarana and taurine, is what is unknown.

Caffeine has been linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.

"In many cases, it's hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label," Dr. Schneider said. "Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda."
AAP recommendations include:

  • Pediatricians should highlight the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks with patients and their parents, and talk about the potential health risks.
  • Energy drinks pose potential health risks because of the stimulants they contain, and should never be consumed by children or adolescents.
  • Routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks by children and adolescents should be avoided or restricted, because they can increase the risk of overweight and obesity, as well as dental erosion.
  • Sports drinks have a limited function for pediatric athletes; they should be ingested when there is a need for rapid replenishment of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes in combination with water during prolonged, vigorous physical activity.

Water, not sports drinks, should be the principal source of hydration for children and adolescents.

Another concern about the use of energy drinks combined with alcohol. The ingredients of energy drinks can mask the impairment of alcohol use. The best known case of this involved NFL wide receiver Dante Stallworth, who killed a pedestrian with his car in 2009 after drinking shots of tequila and a can of Red Bull.

If you need a pediatrician or family medicine physician, call Nurses on Call at 1-877-8441.