Energy Drink Risks for Children

I have just learned how dangerous energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster are for children and teens. As the father of a beautiful 14 year old, 8th grade girl and as a lawyer who fights to protect the rights Florida’s injured children— I want to share this important information with you. This week, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg received a letter signed by 18 of our country’s most respected doctors, researchers and public health experts recommending that the FDA take immediate action to protect teens and children from the possible risks of energy drinks like Red Bull. I have read the letter and I strongly urge parents to think twice before allowing their kids to drink energy drinks. I also believe that they should not be sold to children under 21. I blogged about this recently for the Huffington Post.

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Energy drinks are strategically marketed to consumers between 13 and 35 year of age. This year, Monster Energy, the largest drink manufacturer in the United States, is expected to have sales in excess of $19.7 billion.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Red Bull is the primary sponsor of the ULTRA Music Festival held in Miami this week. ULTRA transforms downtown Miami into one huge techno music dance floor. It attracts literally hundreds of thousands of mostly teenage fans who are expected to listen to artists like Swedish House Mafia, Tiesto, David Guetta and deadMau5. Due to the large crowd of intoxicated people injuries are common at ULTRA.

Most energy drinks contain carbonated water, sugar and extreme amounts of caffeine and ginseng. And kids are drinking them more than ever. A recent report from Monitoring the Future, a federally funded national survey, shows that 18% of middle school and high school students drink at least one energy beverage every single day.

Currently, the FDA does not require energy drink companies to disclose the amount of caffeine content on labels. Most people have no idea just how much caffeine they are consuming in a typical can of Red Bull. For example the FDA has approved 71 mg per 12 oz serving as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS). However, Monster Energy contains between 160 and 240 milligrams per can. Some energy drinks have as much as 100 mg of caffeine in an 8 oz serving.

The labeling confusion is dangerous for both adults and children since some brands market their products as a soft drinks or “dietary supplements.” Some school cafeterias are even selling these drinks to students as if it were milk.

Compared to adults, young people have a far greater sensitivity to caffeine due to a lower body mass and a less developed tolerance. As a result, more and more kids are getting hurt by drinking them. So far the FDA has attributed 18 deaths to children who have consumed energy drinks like Monster Energy and 5-Hour Energy. One case detailed a 14-year-old girl who died from a cardiac arrhythmia induced after drinking two 24 oz Monster Energy drinks over the course of two days. There are 21 claims of adverse reactions which required hospitalization for children after consuming Red Bull.

The FDA data only counts incidents actually submitted through its Voluntary Adverse Event Reporting Systems. However, according to the National Poison Control Data System, 50% of all calls received between October 2010 and September 2011 were related to caffeine poisoning incidents for children.

In the last five years, emergency room visits have doubled for energy drink related cardiac and neurological injuries. Typical symptoms include feelings of anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Patients are being diagnosed with cardiac damage such as tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia and ventricular fibrillation– as well as new onset of seizure disorder. Fortunately, as soon as the patient abstains from energy drink consumption, the seizure disorder stops.

Contrary to common belief, sugar-free versions of Red Bull and other drinks are not safer. In fact, the consumption of sugar-free energy drinks has been associated with platelet function changes great enough to increase the risk of a severe cardiac event.

Perhaps the most dangerous way to consume Red Bull or any other energy drink is to mix it with alcohol. The FDA and CDC have agreed that combining energy drinks and alcohol is unsafe and poses a serious health risk. Consuming energy drinks mixed with alcohol increases the risk for rape and sexual assault and alcohol dependency. I recently was interviewed by the Yale University Daily News regarding the on-campus rape of a student.

I hope that the FDA will take these recommendations seriously and ban the sale of energy drinks to anyone under the age of 21. In addition, the FDA should mandate energy drink manufactures to include the caffeine levels on all labels.

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