Caffeine Dangers: What Parents Need to Know

Editor’s Note: March is Caffeine Awareness Month, so we’ve decided to republish this very important guest article from USEP-OHIO that highlights some caffeine facts and risky teen behaviors involving energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages. We hope this will serve as a reminder to parents to be mindful of the amount of caffeine your teens are drinking and to educate them about the dangers.

USEP-OHIO PARENT TIP

By Cindy McKay, www.usep-ohio.org

This brief Parent Tip is provided at no cost by United Services for Effective Parenting-Ohio, Inc., as a tool to assist parents, teachers, grandparents, and all who help to care for and to raise our children. For more information on this and other tools from USEP-OHIO, refer to the conclusion of this Parent Tip.

USEP-OHIO

Photo: USEP-OHIO

Seven teens and early twenty-somethings hung out in our kitchen recently, during a family reunion. They were full of fun and stories, running off for errands and games. I overheard, “Man, I’m tired. I need an energy drink!” In fact, they put a few in the refrigerator over the days they were all here. These kids are from four states, bright and responsible (I would say unusually bright and responsible.), and doubted the dangers of caffeine in their lives. When a mother from our neighborhood asked if I knew anything about caffeine being an actual danger, I felt I had to tell the story I had learned about our Ohio teen, [LS].

Note: Names and locations have been omitted or replaced with initials out of respect for the families of minors included in this article.

L made the national news programs—all of them! He was a wrestler and an 18-year-old senior ready to graduate in a few days. He made a big mistake. A bag of white powder found after L’s brother discovered his body turned out to be powdered caffeine—inexpensive and easily obtainable on the Internet. You know how the last few days of school can be: harried and too busy to take time out for rest. So, why not have extra caffeine?! L’s big mistake was that he probably did not know that 1/16 tsp. of caffeine powder contains as much caffeine as 2.5 cans of Red Bull. But he probably took 1 tsp. (what still seems like a small dose), which is equal to the caffeine in 35 – 50 cans of Red Bull! According to the coroner, excessive caffeine can cause seizures or normally healthy hearts to go into cardiac arrhythmia. So, L died.

Caffeine powder was recently available on Amazon for $9.95, and it is often used by athletes to prepare for performances at events like wrestling matches or to stay awake for studying or to lose weight. Pure caffeine can be bought in bulk because it is labeled as a supplement and is therefore not currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dr. Tara Narula from CBS News said:

The scary thing is that everybody thinks that caffeine is so safe because it is everywhere. The message for parents and children is that you don’t know how much you are getting, and you don’t know what else is in there! It can be so deadly.

Some Facts

According to Dr. Cora Breuner from Seattle Children’s Hospital, “Children are getting more caffeine, earlier than ever. Often, we find 9th graders regularly drinking coffee.” She shared the following statistics:

5-hour Energy drink = 207 mg. caffeine

Small Red Bull = 76 – 80 mg. caffeine

Monster Energy drink = 160 mg. caffeine

Espresso = 40 – 75 mg. caffeine

Diet Coke = 45 mg. caffeine

6 – 8 oz. coffee = 30 mg. caffeine

Dr. Susan Mazor, director of the Medical Toxicology service and an emergency attending physician, said that labels do not reveal the exact amount of caffeine in each drink, and in addition to caffeine, energy drinks may contain other stimulants, such as taurine and guarana, a caffeine-containing plant. One 14-year-old, AF, apparently drank two 24 oz. Monster Energy drinks in 24 hours. An undiagnosed, inherited disorder weakened her blood vessels. So, she died of cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity.

What do Parents and Professionals Need to Know?

Be kind but firm. Be upfront. Know what your kids are ordering on Amazon and other sites. Monitor what they drink and eat. (Some adolescents’ cocktail of choice is an energy drink mixed with alcohol.) Water is still the best source of hydration, and children and adolescents should maintain the intake of low-fat milk and juice in their meals. Recent tests show that higher blood pressure results from caffeine, and readings even higher are often seen in teen boys. Dr. Stephen Cook at University of Rochester Medical Center says:

Limit caffeine! Childhood is a time of immense bone growth and development. Energy drinks may interfere with health and nutrition! Beware of products that claim to boost memory or your energy level.

Other surprising sources of caffeine may include ice cream, frozen yogurt, clear sodas like Mountain Dew (55 mg. in a 12 oz. can), and even seemingly healthy products like caffeine-infused sunflower seeds.

Further Reading

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

– Dr. Nancy Snyderman on “Nightly News: Kids and Caffeine”

“Ohio Teen’s Death by Caffeine Highlights Risk of Common Supplement”

We invite you to share this USEP-OHIO publication with other parents, students, and professionals at home or work. You have permission to copy Tips as written, send on as email, or print for a newsletter or handout. Email us at usepohio@usepohio.com to add email addresses to our list, to give us feedback about how the information works for you, or for other topics, publications, and programs. See www.usep-ohio.org and safe-connections-and-resources.org by Cindy McKay, Executive Director, USEP-OHIO, Inc.

Featured photo: David Castillo Dominici

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