Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Health Wise: November 2013, Helping Students Make Healthy Choices

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Health Wise: November 2013, Helping Students Make Healthy Choices

Article excerpt

Pushing Caffeine To Teens

Considering the flood of caffeinated drinks marketed to youth, you might be surprised that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that teens avoid the stimulant. "Caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents," states an AAP report (Pediatrics 2011, p. 1182).

In May, after Wrigley's introduced a new caffeinated chewing gum, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an investigation into the "safety of caffeine in food products, particularly its effects on children and adolescents."

"One pack of this gum is like having four cups of coffee in your pocket," Michael R. Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, stated in the announcement (FDA 2013). "Caffeine is even being added to jelly beans, marshmallows, sunflower seeds, and other snacks for its stimulant effect. An instant oatmeal on the market boasts that one serving has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, and then there [is] a so-called 'wired' waffle and 'wired' syrup with added caffeine."

"Caffeine is considered a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, giving most people a temporary energy boost and elevated mood," says Steve Dowshen, MD, pediatric endocrinologist at Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. "But too much caffeine can cause anxiety, dizziness, headaches, and stomachaches. It can also interfere with concentration and sleep. In addition, people who regularly ingest a lot of caffeine soon develop less sensitivity to it, and they may need more caffeine to achieve the same effects."

Energy drinks, which aren't regulated by the FDA, may pose special health risks. Since this column first reported on energy drinks (Health Wise, February 2009), sales have risen dramatically and are expected to reach $21.5 billion by 2017 (Knowles 2013).

"Most energy drinks are loaded with sugar and caffeine," Dowshen says. "The caffeine in one can be as much as three cups of coffee. Many energy drinks also contain other ingredients whose safety or effectiveness has never been tested in kids or teens--including guarana, an Amazonian climbing plant that produces caffeine in its seeds, and taurine, an amino acid thought to boost performance and intensify caffeine's effects."

Classroom activity

Because caffeinated beverages are so popular, students may forget that caffeine is a drug, and that overuse can have negative effects on the body and mind. …

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