Prime Energy, a new energy drink that contains 200 mg of caffeine, is one drink causing concern.
Too much caffeine can increase the risks of developing physical and emotional health problems, such as irregular heartbeats or anxiety.
While caffeine is classified as a drug, caffeinated beverages are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now, some parents and pediatricians want this to change. Citing negative health impacts on adolescents, they’re calling for age limits on purchasing certain caffeinated energy drinks.
One drink under scrutiny is Prime Energy, a new energy drink that contains 200 mg of caffeine, 50 mg more than its already highly caffeinated competitor, Monster Energy. According to Reuters, US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has asked the FDA to investigate Prime Energy’s caffeine content and its marketing to kids.
Ilan Shapiro, MD, pediatrician and Chief Health Correspondent and Medical Affairs Officer at AltaMed Health Services, says that while drinking too much caffeine “can be a problem for anyone who drinks it if an adolescent were to ingest high amounts of caffeine— where the child has a smaller body—it can be harmful for their health.”
Pediatricians say that, among other health concerns, excess caffeine can impact heart health, causing irregular or sped-up rhythms; it may also induce anxiety, tremors, and other chronic and acute health problems, says Shapiro. He stresses the importance of curbing youth intake of various caffeinated and energy beverages, regardless of a nationwide age limit.
How much caffeine is too much?
The FDA says that 400 mg of caffeine per day—about four to five cups of coffee—is a safe amount of caffeine for healthy adults; the agency does not offer guidance for adolescents. Caffeinated energy drinks are often marketed as dietary supplements, so manufacturers do not have to undergo FDA approval before bringing these products to market.
The FDA has issued warnings and recommendations—although not requirements— regarding the use of pure and highly concentrated caffeine in liquid or powder form. The FDA does not recommend a serving size limit for these products, nor does it recommend that companies list serving size limits on said products. The agency argues that, due to the high concentration of caffeine in these products, even a tiny dosage could lead to dangerous effects.
Reducing risks of caffeine
Dr. Shapiro recommends talking to parents and children about reducing their caffeine intake. Even if not completely cutting out caffeinated beverages, cutting down on the substance can benefit the body, he says.
“In reality, [danger] depends on the dose of the caffeine,” Dr. Shapiro says. “If we ingest high amounts of caffeine in soda or energy drinks regularly, it can create problems such as dependency on caffeine, anxiety, tremors, and other chronic health issues. It is important to bring awareness to the effects of caffeine on a developing body, discuss moderation, and figure out if it's worth it to drink it or not.”
Limiting or reducing caffeine intake can also help children avoid becoming dependent on the substance—or wean them off of an already developing dependency, he adds. Parents can play a role in this by offering caffeinated drinks as “treats” or rewards, he says.
“Sometimes, as parents, if our kid wants a treat…instead of fighting over it, we give in and reward them,” Dr. Shapiro explains. “This can create a cycle where kids understand how to access highly sugary and caffeinated drinks.”
Dr. Shapiro advises that physicians start talking to parents, teachers, or other adults who work with children about how to monitor kids’ caffeine consumption.
What this means for you
Some parents and pediatricians are calling for an age limit on caffeinated energy beverages, citing health risks. For children, too much caffeine can increase risks for developing physical and emotional health problems, such as irregular heartbeats or anxiety.