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Energy Drinks Are Targeting Your Kids Behind Your Back

If the latest news about energy drinks has motivated you to talk with your kids about their potentially harmful effects, Sari shares the info you should know and pass along.

By Sari Harrar

Reports surfaced this week that the US Food and Drug Administration is investigating a heart attack and five deaths -- including that of a Maryland teenager-- "associated" with highly-caffeinated Monster Energy Drink. But months earlier, Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a report warning that energy drink makers are aggressively targeting pre-teens and teens via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, with campaigns and come-ons parents may never see.

Parents want better labeling and stronger regulations for these drinks, which are often sold in large cans and contain caffeine as well as stimulants like guarana and taurine.  A  June 2012 survey of 985 parents found that:

  1. 86% think energy drinks should report caffeine content on the label.

  2. 85% think energy drinks should carry warning labels about risk for "adverse effects."

  3. 78% think energy drinks should not be marketed to kids or teens.

  4. 74% think energy drinks shouldn't be sold to kids or teens.

If the latest news about energy drinks has motivated you to talk with your kids about them, here's what you should know-- and pass along:

These drinks are marketed to kids behind your back. Social media's big. The Rudd Center says Red Bull has 20 million followers on Facebook, 223,000 on Twitter and gets 158 million YouTube views monthly. Monster Energy has 11 million Facebook followers, 75,000 on Twitter and gets 10 million YouTube views a month. "Adolescent presence on these sites is significant: 59 percent of Facebook users are between 10-17 years old, while 18 percent of Twitter users are 12-17 years old," the report says.

Meanwhile, in 2010, teens saw 18 percent more TV ads and heard 46 percent more radio ads for energy drinks than adults did.

They're highly caffeinated, but there's no way to track just how much. Ounce for ounce, energy drinks contain more than double the caffeine found in soda and more than five times the amount in iced tea. Only about half of the drinks list their caffeine content. By calling themselves "dietary supplements" instead of beverages, the drinks skirt FDA rules for food additives like herbs, which many also contain caffeine.

Let them read what other teens say. A young writer's essay about energy drinks in the publication TeenInk is a good place to start. Also check out an Allentown teen's award-winning research about energy drink use and outcomes in teens. Shoshanna Goldin's study, "Energy Epidemic: Teen Perceptions and Consumption of Energy Drinks" earned her the top prize in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition in 2010. Goldin continues researching energy-drink consumption as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University.

What successful practices do you follow when talking to your teen about these issues?