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Health Experts Warn Against Students Consuming Caffeinated Energy Drinks

National health associations warn that energy drinks can be hazardous, particularly among student athletes.

Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster are multibillion-dollar leaders in the energy drink industry. Touting empowering names and containing nearly 80 milligrams of caffeine per eight ounces, these drinks have become staples in the diets of young, active and stressed-out students. National health associations, however, warn that these drinks can be hazardous, particularly among student athletes.

The National Federation of State High School Associations released a statement in Oct. 2011 that energy drinks should not be consumed before, during or after physical activity because they raise the risk of dehydration and increase the risk of heat illnesses. In 2010, four high school football players from Orange County (Calif.) were hospitalized with persistent tachycardia, or rapid heartbeat, after consuming heavily caffeinated drinks before a game. “There is pressure on kids coming from multiple directions,” says Cheryl Richardson, senior manager for programs at the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). “The level of expectation to be a successful athlete is much higher. There’s pressure to specialize and participate in your sport all year round if you want to be a varsity athlete.”

Richardson also warns that because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate these drinks—they are considered herbal supplements—there is limited research on their ingredients and effects. “The composition of each bottle could be different,” says Richardson. “[They’re] stimulants, and if you have an undetected heart condition or are taking stimulant medications for ADHD, we don’t know what the implications could be if they partner up with energy drinks.”

Richardson suggests that administrators educate coaches, staff and parents on the dangers of these drinks or advocate for a policy to ban them. “The American Academy of Pediatrics says that ‘energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents,’” says Richardson. “[NASPE] supports that statement.”