Sweet but not wired: Sports drinks okay for most kids, but watch the caffeinated energy drinks

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While sports drinks add calories to kids’ diets, so-called “energy drinks” may introduce an unsafe amount of caffeine into their systems. Holly J. Benjamin and Marcie Beth Schneider, specialists in adolescent and sports medicine, published a study on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, stating as much. While the researchers acknowledged that adolescents engaging in vigorous physical activity could benefit from the carbohydrates and electrolytes provided by drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade, they say water is really all that most kids need to quench their thirst.

Though ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross largely agrees with the study’s recommendations, he doubts that sports drinks bear much of the responsibility for childhood obesity, as the authors have suggested. “For kids who don’t need to be overly concerned with watching their weight,” he says, “there’s nothing wrong with sports drinks if they’re consumed as part of a balanced diet. Moreover, aside from quenching thirst, they do supply some needed electrolytes.” On the other hand, energy drinks containing upwards of 500 mg of caffeine are a cause for concern. “That much caffeine in one sitting isn’t good for anybody,” says Dr. Ross. “Warning labels might be reasonable on energy drinks with such high caffeine content.”

ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom adds that “caffeine belongs to a class of drugs called xanthines, which includes the asthma drug theophylline. Excessive consumption of either drug can cause numerous side effects, including tremor, nausea, frequent urination and, in rare cases, convulsions.”