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Energy drinks rattles school


Maya Blackman

The Oregonian

May 7, 2008

 TIGARD -- Teachers and administrators at Twality Middle School have seen something in the trash bins that has them worried: increasing numbers of empty energy drink cans.

Some teachers became so concerned, they e-mailed parents Friday pleading with them not to send their students to school with energy drinks. Administrators followed up with a letter Tuesday to all families in the 880-student school.

"The result is that some students are literally drunk on a caffeine buzz, or falling off a caffeine crash," the e-mail said. While many energy drinks have the same caffeine, ounce for ounce, as strong coffee, the teachers wrote they found some students exchanging and accumulating cans and drinking as many as five cans a day.

"Many energy drink consumers have already developed caffeine dependency, and on some days we get to witness 14-year-old caffeine withdrawal (You know how you get when you haven't had your cup of coffee)," the teachers wrote.

The rising popularity of so-called energy drinks is drawing concern among school administrators around the nation, with principals in other states also urging parents not to send their students to school with energy drinks. In mid-March, four eighth-graders in Broward County, Fla., were hospitalized after sipping energy drinks and then complaining of sweating and racing hearts.

Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the industry trade group American Beverage Association, said it makes sense for educators to communicate with families about consuming caffeinated drinks in moderation.

Patrice Radden, a Red Bull spokeswoman, said its product can be consumed at the same age that it is suitable to drink coffee. She said children are more sensitive to caffeine than adults and normally have plenty of energy and that the company doesn't recommend its caffeinated products to caffeine-sensitive individuals.

A newsletter mailed Tuesday to Twality parents includes an article on the popular drinks and how they can contain high amounts of sugar as well as caffeine.

While parents and students likely see soda for what it is -- a drink that can pack a lot of calories and no nutrition -- some may not see the hazards of downing energy drinks.

Carol Cochran, a school nurse consultant with the Willamette Education Service District and the National School Nurse of the Year, said that while coffee drinkers sip the hot beverage, kids in the supersized, soda pop generation are used to guzzling cold drinks.

She sees a confluence in the lack of awareness about the contents of energy drinks, heavy marketing and wide availability leading to high use.

When she hears about students needing a boost, she recommends a tried and true remedy: get enough sleep and eat right. Cochran said adults need to encourage teens and avoid saying such things as, " 'I can't do anything in the morning until I have my coffee.' Well, you know what, the kids learn."

Carolyn Raab, a food and nutrition specialist for the Oregon State University Extension Service, said many parents might only see the drinks' appealing claims and consider them better than sodas. However, manufacturers aren't required to disclose caffeine content.

Raab, a registered and licensed dietician, urges moderation and that consumers consider whether they are displacing more nutritious drinks such as calcium-rich milk, vitamin-laden vegetable juices and an overlooked hydrating powerhouse -- water.


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