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Reports to poison control centers regarding energy drinks and kids under 6 years old are alarmingly high, according to a new study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014. Many of the beverages contain pharmaceutical-grade caffeine – in addition to extra caffeine from natural sources – which can significantly increase a child’s blood pressure and heart rate, leading to severe cardiac and neurological side effects.
What’s the Problem?
More than half of all calls to U.S. poison control centers about energy drinks like Monster and 5-Hour Energy are for children younger than 6, according to Steven Lipshultz, lead researcher and pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital in Michigan. Lipshultz cautions that people of all ages with underlying health conditions should be wary of the heavily-caffeinated beverages.
“Exposure to energy drinks is a continuing health problem,” Lipshultz said. “You normally think of teens and young adults as most likely to drink them, but we found that half of calls to U.S. poison control centers involved unintentional exposures by children less than 6 years old.”
For the study, researchers looked at 5,156 calls to poison control centers between October 2010 and September 2013 involving energy drink injuries. Most of the calls for children under the age of 6 were because they got their hands on the beverages accidentally. Almost one-third had severe symptoms requiring treatment, including:
- Chest pain
- Erratic heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
In 2012, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) launched an investigation into the safety of energy drinks after an influx of emergency room visits were linked to the beverages. The American Medical Association (AMA) has urged regulators to limit sales to adults. Studies have demonstrated that energy drinks can boost heart rates and cause arrhythmias.
Young children, especially those with pre-existing heart problems, may face an increased risk of suffering adverse reactions to energy drinks. Other conditions, such as diabetes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may also increase the risk of injury, particularly if these children are taking prescription drugs. Young adults can face risks as well. Consumers ages 20 and older were the most likely to report serious side effects, particularly when they combine the beverages with alcohol, according to the study.