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Teens pressured to stay over-stimulated with caffeine


Saritha Prabhu

The Tennessean
April 14, 2008



People who know me know I'm a caffeine-lover, who likes her chai and coffee a few times a day. But even a borderline caffeine addict like me is a little bewildered at the hyper-caffeinated world in which our kids seem to live.

More specifically, I'm talking about the explosive rise of energy drinks in recent years beverages with names like Red Bull, Monster, SoBe, Rockstar among others. We're talking about some souped-up amounts of caffeine here some energy drinks have caffeine counts up to 350 mg, the equivalent of about 10 cans of Coke or more than three cups of brewed coffee.

Even more specifically, I'm troubled by the marketing of these drinks to kids as young as 12 and 13. I guess this is one of those issues that hit close to home, for my 13-year-old son, along with others at school, was subjected to a one-time marketing campaign for one of these drinks. It was disguised as a snazzy contest with prizes, but the real objective, of course, was to introduce the drink to a young crowd.

Thirteen-year-olds drinking the equivalent of 10 cans of Coke at one sitting are we OK with that?

So I looked up energy drinks, trying to sift the facts from the alarmism and found the following:

The FDA doesn't regulate caffeine content in energy drinks, nor does it require manufacturers to list the caffeine content on the cans. With no regulation, the sky is apparently the limit when it comes to caffeine content.

The energy drink market is a roughly $5 billion a year industry and growing.

One random can once in a while for older teens isn't a problem, apparently, but many teens typically don't stop at one drink and sometimes get habituated, and that may pose health risks.

Health professionals are already expressing concern over these high-caffeine drinks, especially related to consumption by kids studies have linked caffeine overuse by kids to hypertension, elevated heart rates, interrupted sleep patterns and anxiety.

A recent Miami Herald article reported that some pediatric emergency rooms have seen a rise in the last couple of years in kids with symptoms relating to caffeine over-consumption.

Perspective is, of course, key here. Teens' partaking of energy drinks is, of course, not as bad as their swilling alcohol or taking drugs. But taken by itself, it is a potentially harmful habit.

To me, this issue does point to some bigger ones like how almost anything borderline-harmful can be marketed if it is branded "cool" or "sexy"; like how many of us parents will buy almost anything for our kids for different reasons under-informed, too busy to research the product, want our kid to fit in, whatever.

It's also about a society that is pressured to stay "on" all the time, about how many of today's teens and young people ignore their body's pleas for rest, and go to extraordinary artificial means to stay energetic. They sometimes learn a little too late that the body can withstand only so much abuse.

Regardless, the market always seems to come up with new, ingenious ways to endanger people's health. Reading about it gave me a headache, and I reached for a pick-me-up my usual, a 6-ounce serving of instant coffee, containing, I might add, a paltry 60 mg of caffeine.


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