What happens when a child consumes an energy drink?
Tooth loss, obesity, missing meals and insomnia are among the possibilities writes Dr Pat Harrold
. Children’s tummies are small, so if they fill themselves up with a sugary drink, they will not feel like eating meals. Photograph: Thinkstock
Safefood recommends that children under 16 should avoid energy drinks. Childhood obesity is the most prevalent childhood illness in Europe and 22 per cent of Irish 5 to 12 year olds are overweight or obese.
So what can happen when a child consumes an energy drink?
When a child consumes an energy drink her teeth are bathed in sugar. This feeds harmful bacteria in the mouth which produce acid. If her teeth are attacked by acid regularly, the acid dissolves enamel and forms cavities, leading to pain, fillings and loss of teeth
When the energy drink goes into her stomach she will feel full. Children’s tummies are small, so if they fill themselves up with a sugary drink, they will not feel like eating meals. They miss out on fibre, protein, vitamins and trace elements that are contained in food.
If they miss out on meals they also tend to snack, which leads in its turn to obesity. If a child develops obesity she may suffer from joint problems, low self esteem, lack of mobility and ultimately lifelong weight problems and diabetes.
When she drinks energy drinks she ingests a huge amount of calories. If these are not burned off they turn to fat. This in turn can also lead to obesity.
Teachers and parents often report a sugar rush after a child takes a substantial amount of sugar, followed by a crash as the sugar is absorbed, with altered mood, behaviour and concentration.
Safefood has identified several health risks which are thought to be primarily due to the caffeine content of the drinks. When a child ingests caffeine she may experience insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability and an upset stomach.
If a child suffers from insomnia it may affect her school performance, and be yet another cause of obesity. When she takes caffeine her heart will speed up and she may have muscle tremors.
When she consume a caffeinated drink she tends to urinate more, which can lead in turn lead to dehydration. If a child needs to rehydrate they are better off drinking water which is calorie free, caffeine–free, inexpensive and readily available.
When a child takes an energy drink she is taking a product that is very far removed from a natural diet . Human beings in their natural state would rarely encounter pure sugar and they would be most unlikely to encounter caffeine.
Dr Pat Harrold is a GP in Nenagh, Co Tipperary