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Energy Drinks With Caffeine Are Popular But May Harm Children

There is a growing controversy over the marketing of popular energy drinks heavily laced with caffeine to teenagers or even younger children. Federal regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledge receiving reports indicating that five fatalities as well as one heart attack in which the patient survived may be linked to consumption or over-consumption of these beverages.

These reports focus on the drinking of a beverage known as Monster Energy Drinks. They contain a high level of caffeine. That is, as of yet, no proof that the drinks had a relationship to the fatalities, or triggered the heart attack, but FDA personnel are currently looking into the possibility of such links.

The parents of one teenager who died after guzzling down two of the 24-ounce energy drinks within a day filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the beverage company in California. Their 14-year-old daughter suffered from an inherited physical defect that can, in some instances, result in weakened blood vessels. This, combined with the toxic effects of the massive amounts of caffeine roaring through her bloodstream from the energy drink may have ended up triggering the cardiac arrhythmia which her autopsy revealed caused her death.

The beverage manufacturer denies that its drink caused the death. But a pediatric cardiologist emphasized that caffeine can have a far greater impact on the body of a child than on an adult drinking the same quantity of a beverage. Because children are smaller and have a tinier bloodstream for the caffeine to percolate around in, there is a far greater concentration of caffeine in their blood from drinking the same number of beverages.

The impact can be exacerbated by pre-existing medical conditions, such as the one the 14-year-old girl suffered from. Some parents have reacted to news reports linking caffeinated energy drinks with deaths or heart attacks by banning them from their households, but the reality is that children, and especially teens, can easily purchase such beverages at many convenience stores, who will sell them as many as they can pay for. And they may often overindulge in them, not realizing the severity of the potential harm.

While many parents may allow some children, and particularly teens, to consume some beverages containing caffeine, such as popular cola drinks, whether sugared or artificially sweetened, what they often don’t realize is that a beverage such as Monster Energy drinks contains 400% the amount of caffeine as an average can of these cola drinks. Add to that the fact that teens seeing to be alert for school or other activities may quickly chug multiple over-sized containers of these energy drinks, and you may have a disaster waiting to happen.

Currently, the FDA imposes no regulation or restrictions on their sale, including to minors. They are not classified as either a drug, despite containing high amounts of caffeine, or a food. Perhaps that will change in the future, if there is definite proof of the link to the reported deaths and heart attacks. Until then, parents and their children are largely left to fend for themselves and exercise caution.