12/05/2012 05:10 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2013

Energy and Sports Drinks: An Unhealthy and Perhaps Deadly Combination for Children

Your child's soda and beverages may be infused with caffeine, and they drink them like water. These drinks could be deadly. The parents of 14-year-old Anais Fournie are unfortunately aware of this. After consuming two Monster energy drinks, Anais suffered a heart attack and sadly died. Anais Fournie's family is suing the company that produces Monster, claiming that they failed to warn consumers about the risks associated with drinking its product. Basically, there was no warning label.

The role of the drink and the child's existing health issues will be hotly debated by the attorneys as being responsible for the death; however, several points remains clear. The manufacturers of these drinks are promoting the "feel good" aspects of their product while the potential dangers are not being disclosed, and they are marketing these drinks to children.

As parents, we tell our children not to drink coffee since it might "stunt your growth," but we do not tell them not to drink these caffeine-loaded energy drinks since it might kill them. In some instances, there may be a lack of awareness that caffeine is in the drinks, and even more disturbing is that the amount of caffeine is a mystery. The risks and severity of the dangers of these drinks are not being recognized.

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study titled "Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?" The study reports that in 2011, there was $9 billion in sales and states that these drinks are being marketed to children and adolescents. The researchers claim:

...caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents. Furthermore, frequent or excessive intake of caloric sports drinks can substantially increase the risk for overweight or obesity in children and adolescents.

Children and their parents need to understand that "energy" drinks contain substances not found in traditional sports drinks (e.g., Gatorade). They contain substances that act as stimulants. The most commonly used ingredients are caffeine, guarana and taurine. Caffeine has been "linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems." Children who consume moderate amounts of caffeine before physical activity can have elevated blood pressure and experience all the potential dangers associated with it. Children need to be told the dangers of consuming these energy drinks. Children with medical conditions need to be cautioned, since some conditions may be exacerbated by high levels of caffeine.

If the product manufacturers are silent as to the dangers, then parents must be more responsible. Parents must be the "warning label" and inform their children of the potential dangers. It is also prudent to educate children on the importance of knowing the ingredients of all products they consume. They should read food labels. This topic can be an opportunity to create a new family dynamic and encourage your children to read food and beverage labels. This activity can be used to provide further insights into an overall healthier way of eating and drinking. Reading labels can stimulate family discussion and change eating habits. It may also provide a rude awakening as to the value of drinking water. Water is an excellent alternative to other beverages, including energy drinks. Water is readily available, has no calories and, if from the tap, is cheap. For bottled water, the ingredients label should read: water, nothing added, just water.

For more by Helene Pavlov, M.D., click here.

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