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Energy drinks are everywhere, in the stores, on television, and to an increasingly alarming rate, in the hands of teenagers and young adults across the country. With recent controversies over deaths connected to energy drink use still fresh in our media, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released "Energy Drinks: What Teenagers (and Their Doctors) Should Know," compiling and analyzing data from 23 studies. The article strenuously cautions against energy drink consumption by young people, and calls for increased awareness of the dangers associated with their use.

The study, recently published in Pediatrics in Review, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, cites an American Academy of Pediatrics study that found that 30-50% of adolescents and young adults consume energy drinks on a regular basis. It further documents that of the 5448 caffeine overdose cases reported in 2007, 46% occurred in patients younger than 19 years of age. These statistics are frightening in light of the fact that the beverages and their contents are unregulated by the FDA for their caffeine content, and contain other herbal ingredients that can boost the effect of the caffeine. Documented adverse symptoms related to energy drink consumption include anxiety, insomnia, stomach problems and dehydration. When taken in large amounts, they can pose health hazards, such as heart palpitations and elevated blood pressure. Some doctors have reported seizures, particularly when used with medications like those for attention deficit disorders and depression.

In combination with alcohol, the effects of energy drinks are compounded. Drinking an energy drink and then drinking alcohol, or consuming one of the energy drinks that is formulated with alcohol, adds impaired judgment and excessive risk-taking to the list of possible effects. The study in Pediatrics also found that one-fourth of college students had consumed the drinks with alcohol in a one-month period and reported higher rates of being taken advantage of sexually, riding in a car with a driver under the influence of alcohol, being hurt or injured and requiring medical treatment.

In response to the recent scrutiny, an American Beverage Association spokesperson said that organization "encourages all energy drink companies to voluntarily display caffeine amounts from all sources on their packages along with an advisory statement that the product is not intended or recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women and persons sensitive to caffeine." Not all manufacturers comply with the recommendation, and some of the beverages can contain “the same amount of caffeine as 14 cans of soda,” according to Dr. Lawrence Pasquinelli, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters in Norfolk, VA.

As information regarding the effects of caffeine enhanced energy drinks on young people begins to coalesce, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that their physicians take notice, and begin to educate both parents and patients about dangers. They recommend that questions about use of energy drinks be added to standard substance use/abuse questionnaires in routine office visits, and are especially critical when treating patients with high-risk behaviors, certain health conditions (eg, seizures, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac abnormalities), children with behavioral changes, anxiety, poor nutrition, sleep disturbances, and also children and adolescents who plan to participate in athletics.

Although many will find it difficult to give up the quick and easy energy boost that energy drink products offer, it is certainly the wisest course to limit their use until their effects on us, and on our children, have been more thoroughly explored.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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