Wednesday, May 17, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Marketing Energy Drinks to Kids

"Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from." 
                                                             --Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  This article is about kids, caffeine, and energy drinks.  


Asking questions is a great way to learn from kids about what they think is normal.  Recently, while teaching a class to 10 year olds in an afterschool program in Indian River County, Florida, I asked the kids if they knew anyone who drinks energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster.  They ALL raised their hands.  Then I asked if they drank energy drinks and more than half raised their hands.  I asked the kids why they drank them and this is what they said:
  • “They give you energy.”
  • “They give you protein and minerals.”
  • “I like them.”
  • “They help you lose weight.”

I couldn’t believe that these 10 year olds were telling me they needed these highly marketed energy drinks to lose weight.  I was stunned to think that their parents must approve of kids drinking energy drinks for so many of these kids to accept them as normal. 

Image result for energy drinks

What followed was a lively discussion about healthy ways to improve your energy (eat breakfast, don't skip meals and snacks).  We talked about foods that improve your moods (eat some dark chocolate) and tips for staying at a healthy weight (get enough sleep and eat foods containing dietary fiber (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes).  We talked about reading food labels and not consuming something if you can't pronounce the ingredients.  

Then I told the kids a true story about a 16 year old boy named Davis Allen Cripe in South Carolina who died in April 2017 from excess caffeine intake.  Officials have said his death was from "probable arrhythmia” or abnormal beating of the heart.  Within 2 hours Davis drank approximately 419 mg of caffeine consisting of:

Large diet Mountain Dew            135 mg caffeine
McDonald’s Latte:                       142 mg caffeine
(unnamed) energy drink:             142 mg caffeine

Energy drinks, in addition to caffeine, contain sugar and stimulants.  Energy drinks are not tested on kids, yet kids are consuming them every day.  Energy drinks are highly marketed to kids.  At my favorite grocery store, there are fully stocked refrigerators of energy drinks and sodas at every checkout intentionally placed so they are easy to grab as an impulse item.  The fact is that a teenager died from ingesting high doses of caffeine, a legal drug, within a 2 hour period.  

My condolences go out to the Cripe family as they now educate families about the dangers of energy drinks for kids while grieving the loss of their son, Davis.  My hope is that parents will talk with their kids about the dangers of energy drinks and parents will choose to not buy these drinks for their kids.  More than 50% of the 10 year olds I was teaching thought it was perfectly fine to drink these every day.  It’s not.  Dare to care.  Let’s not allow food manufacturers to put profits ahead of our chidren’s health – and lives. 

Please pass the water.  

In gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids