Effect of Energy Drinks on Children

Experts have cautioned parents against allowing their children to consume energy drinks, as it can lead to various health issues such as digestive problems, dehydration, anxiety, jitteriness, heart palpitations, and high blood pressure.

Concerns have been raised by medical professionals regarding the heightened vulnerability of children to negative health effects caused by the significant amounts of caffeine present in energy drinks.

The physicians emphasized that caffeine intoxication in children has the potential to impact the development of their nervous system and heart functions.

In an exclusive interview with PUNCH Healthwise, Dr. Samuel Owoyemi, a Paediatric Cardiologist, highlighted that children with underlying and undiagnosed heart conditions face a greater risk of experiencing severe consequences from consuming energy drinks.

While acknowledging the importance of caffeine in energy drinks, he cautioned that excessive consumption of this substance by adults can lead to palpitations, hypertension, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, psychosis, and, in rare cases, even death.

He further emphasized that the situation can be even more dire for children, as they may suffer from irregular heart rhythms, also known as arrhythmias, which can occur as a result of excessive stimulation of the heart.

“Arrhythmias can affect how much blood is pumped throughout the body, making you feel dizzy. Arrhythmias that are left untreated over time may develop into more serious or deadly disorders.

“You don’t need energy drinks because they are filled with non-nutritional stimulants like caffeine. Children may be more susceptible to the ingredients in energy drinks than adults. Regular energy drink consumption stresses the body, and a developing body shouldn’t be stressed,” Dr. Owoyemi said.

Similarly, a Consultant Paediatrician, Bello Surajudeen, affirmed that the consumption of energy drinks by children can cause mental health issues, and addiction, as well as pose nutritional challenges.

He explained that children who take energy drinks may suffer from overnutrition or undernutrition, pointing out that the drink mostly causes micronutrient deficiency.

He said: “The dangers of drinking energy drinks are many. It can cause nutritional problems in children and has negative effects on their hearts. It can also have negative mental effects on children.

“In terms of heart problems, it is usually centred on having an abnormal heartbeat. There is also the risk of having palpitations, in which case, the heart will be beating very fast.”

Continuing, he said, “Nutrition wise, when some children become addicted to it, they will not want to eat nutritious food again and will become dependent on fast foods and energy drinks, which they believe make them feel better.“

It will also tilt them towards overnutrition, overweight or obesity. They can also suffer from undernutrition. With undernutrition, they will have what we call micronutrient deficiency because there are some nutrients that they can only get from food, which are absent in those energy drinks.

“They may not be small for their age, but will have what is called hidden hunger, which means some micronutrients like vitamins, and minerals, among others, are deficient in their bodies.”

On how it can impact children’s mental health, Dr. Surajudeen explained that the caffeine content can turn children into energy drink addicts.

According to him, it can affect their mental health because energy drink contains caffeine, which has the tendency to keep them awake, and also turn them into dependents.

“When they take energy drinks frequently, they become addicted, so much so that if they don’t take it, they may not be able to function properly. Some may not be able to sleep and this will impact negatively on their academic performances in school. At the end of the day, as they grow older, the tendency that they may end up taking drugs to get the caffeine effect is high.

“Taking them off it will be quite difficult because of what we call withdrawal symptoms. It will be very difficult even if they attempt to stop or someone wants to stop them. So, it may end up becoming a psychiatric issue”, he said.

Dr. Surajudeen added that energy drinks can also turn adults into addicts, and that they can as well suffer from heart disorders.

“Taking energy drinks can also affect an adult due to the presence of caffeine. There are those that will get so addicted that they will not be able to do anything without taking a gulp.

The difference between its effect on a child and an adult is in the area of nutrition because adults don’t have nutritional problems like children. But basically, they can have all other problems a child consuming energy drink is exposed to”, he said.

In a recent research published in the journal Nutrients, a connection has been established between energy drinks and a higher risk of severe heart-related health issues, nervous system disorders, as well as liver and kidney problems.

The study examined a group of 18 children and adolescents under the age of 18 who reported experiencing negative health effects associated with their consumption of energy drinks.

The findings revealed that minors who consumed excessive amounts of energy drinks, particularly those containing caffeine, suffered significant health impacts, especially if they had pre-existing medical conditions or were taking stimulants or party drugs.

According to reports from The Sun, approximately 45% of the participants experienced cardiovascular side effects, including cardiac arrhythmia and arterial hypertension, which refers to high blood pressure affecting the arteries in the lungs and the right side of the heart.

Some individuals also experienced acute coronary artery vasospasm, characterized by sudden constriction of the heart’s arteries leading to spasms, as well as spontaneous coronary artery dissection, which involves a tear in the wall of a coronary artery responsible for supplying blood to the heart.

In certain instances, the teenagers had pre-existing health conditions that made them more vulnerable to potential triggers. Additionally, 33% of the participants experienced impact on their nervous systems as a result of consuming these beverages.

The researchers highlighted that the neuropsychiatric effects of energy drinks remain understudied, but chronic consumption has been linked to panic attacks, psychotic episodes, hyper-excitability, and headaches.

The study also indicated that energy drink consumption has negative implications for brain development, potentially leading to insomnia, attention deficit disorder, and hyperactivity.

Furthermore, two of the minors involved in the study experienced side effects in their liver, with researchers attributing this to the presence of niacin and sugar in energy drinks.