Energy Drinks Are a Crock of Crap, But You Knew That...Right?

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On the front page of yesterday's New York Times was the headline Energy Drinks Promise Edge, But Experts Say Proof Is Scant.

And not that people feeding their babies Mountain Dew out of a bottle nor concocting go-go juice for their kids, Honey Boo Boo-style, will notice or care what The New York Times has to say about their Rockstar Energy drinks or tallboys of Monster -- I was still happy to see this splashed on the front page of the most widely read paper in America. It's been building for a while, but the energy drink backlash appears to be in full swing.

"[O]ne thing is clear, interviews with researchers and a review of scientific studies show: the energy drink industry is based on a brew of ingredients that, apart from caffeine, have little, if any benefit for consumers," wrote Barry Meier yesterday in the Times. Further, the drinks themselves have finally come under well-deserved scrutiny from the FDA for their alleged "benefits."

The additive taurine, Red Bull touts, acts as a "detoxifying agent." And 5-Hour Energy promises "no crash" -- despite the fact that studies have shown nearly 25 percent of 5-Hour Energy consumers to suffer crashes afterward that require them to consume another energy drink or take a nap.

Energy drinks are nothing more than candy water, with added caffeine (or B vitamins -- which most people already consume enough of anyway) to really tweak your body into a tight, crazed, frazzled little knot of "energy" (a.k.a. a sugar and caffeine rush). And that wouldn't be so bad if we weren't actively feeding these things to our children.

It's one thing if, as a stressed college student or overworked banker or under-rested truck driver, you want to jolt yourself awake with copious amounts of caffeine and sugar. People have been doing this same thing for years with everything from coffee and tea to kola nuts and cocoa trees.

But kids don't have a choice in what they eat or drink; they consume what you give them. And their tiny bodies aren't meant to handle the amounts of sugar and/or caffeine in these products. Yet because parents are misled by energy drink companies to think that energy drinks are "good," they'll willingly give Monster cans to their toddlers.

There's a Mountain Dew epidemic -- an epidemic, for Christ's sake, how ridiculous -- in the Appalachian mountains, where a generation of children raised on the sugary drink have developed what dentists call "Mountain Dew Mouth," which causes extremely high rates of tooth decay and tooth loss.

We give our kids sugary sodas and caffeine-laced energy drinks, then wonder why they can't pay attention in school or why they run around like lunatics -- as if their own little bodies didn't contain enough hyperactivity by nature. We train them to require sugar and caffeine, we train their bodies to function more poorly without them. We train them to become the kind of adults who will suck down more and more sugar as they grow older. We train them to develop early-onset adult diabetes. We train them to be obese and have hypertension. We train them to host a lifetime of health problems when we give our kids energy drinks -- and we set a poor example by consuming them ourselves.

More frighteningly -- and more immediately -- people don't realize the effect that sugar and caffeine can have on children in the short term. A 14-year-old Maryland teenager recently died of a heart attack due to caffeine toxicity after drinking just two cans of Monster, and this wasn't an isolated incident. Adverse reactions to caffeine in children are sadly far from rare.

And lest you think it's only parents who are responsible for increasing numbers of children turning to energy drinks, a Yale University report discovered that energy drink companies are actively marketing to children and teenagers. And more often than not, kids are totally unaware as to the levels of caffeine and other stimulants these drinks contain.

Although investigations are ongoing, it remains to be seen if the FDA will ultimately crack down on energy drinks. In the meantime, however, caffeine can still be had in healthier forms in your cups of coffee or tea.

"F.D.A. officials indicated that an outside review would focus on the possible risks posed by high levels of caffeine, a stimulant, to certain groups," wrote Meier in a separate Times piece back in November. "They reiterated that daily consumption of significant levels of caffeine, which is found in products like coffee and tea, is safe."

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