by Jess Snyder
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of planning a winter retreat at a camp for middle school students in northern Michigan. As a tragically overcommitted high school senior, for weeks before the retreat I was dreaming about that sacred, quiet hour after ‘lights out’ when I could do my homework, write college application essays, work on the script I was writing, and plan the team meetings for my varsity basketball team.
As I stood waiting to load onto the bus to go to the retreat, I slowly realized that all around me were swarms of middle school students, already giddy with excitement and hormones, the majority of whom were clutching energy drinks in each hand. “Are those energy drinks?” the school nurse gasped, pointing to one seventh grader who had a six pack in one hand and was graciously distributing more supplies from his backpack to those around him. The question of how much caffeine is acceptable for kids has been widely contested, but do some products may receive more of a bad rap than they deserve?
Here are how energy drinks stack up to other caffeinated drinks:
While the US FDA has not developed any guidelines for children’s consumption of caffeine, our neighbors to the north in Canada have ruled that preschoolers should have no more than 45 mg of caffeine per day and 10-12 year olds should have no more than 85 mg, or approximately an 8-ounce energy drink or two Diet Cokes.
Something to consider is portion size. Many nutrition labels show the information for one serving. While drinks like Red Bull are often sold in 8-ounce, single-serving cans, Monster is notorious for its larger cans. Many studies indicate that energy drinks show few or no detrimental health effects if they are consumed in the recommended amounts (usually, one serving per day). The problem is that many people who drink these beverages far exceed that recommendation.
Interestingly Mountain Dew and Diet Coke were much lower in caffeine content than I expected, relative to coffee and energy drinks. It seems that energy drinks lose out to coffee when it comes to caffeine, but may offer extra energy via sugar and the herbal energy blends. This sugar provides empty calories that are especially unhealthy for young adults who require fewer daily calories than adults.
Throughout my winter retreat, I ended up doing my homework huddled in a bathroom stall at approximately 3:30 am, and several other members of my team reported getting less than 1 hour of sleep each night, as they supervised a dozen highly-caffeinated campers all night long.
Read other articles by Jess Snyder
Jessica Snyder joined the Spry Wellness Blog as a contributor in 2012. She is currently working to obtain an undergraduate degree in English and Communications at the University of Michigan.