Journal voices alarm over teen consumption of energy drinks

How caffeinated are our kids? The Canadian Medical Association Journal thinks it’s a question we ought to be asking.

Energy drinks in a Montreal store. The Canadian Medical Association Journal is voicing alarm over the increasing popularity of highly caffeinated energy drinks among kids and teens.

Energy drinks in a Montreal store. The Canadian Medical Association Journal is voicing alarm over the increasing popularity of highly caffeinated energy drinks among kids and teens.

TORONTO — How caffeinated are our kids? The Canadian Medical Association Journal thinks it’s a question we ought to be asking.

The journal’s senior editors have published an editorial voicing alarm over the increasing popularity among kids and teens of energy drinks, some of which contain as much caffeine as several cans of cola or cups of coffee.

“Caffeine-loaded energy drinks have now crossed the line from beverages to drugs delivered as tasty syrups,” the editors of the journal said in the editorial, released Monday.

They said Health Canada should require producers to use clearer labelling and should bar promotion targeting the child-and-teen market. They also suggest parents need to be informed about the caffeine contents of the drinks their kids are downing.

“We need to educate parents and kids that these things are addictive or are potentially addictive. They carry concerns with use,” Dr. Paul Hebert, editor-in-chief and one of the signatories to the editorial, said in an interview.

An industry body, Refreshments Canada, took exception to the editorial, suggesting the article contains a number of inaccuracies that the group attempted to set straight before publication, to no avail.

In a letter to the editor distributed by the group Monday, Refreshments Canada said the products are regulated by Health Canada as natural health products, not foods as the editorial suggests. Labels clearly indicate the drinks aren’t meant for children, pregnant women or nursing mothers and — contrary to another claim in the editorial — lay out how much caffeine from all sources are contained in the products.

“In Canada, by volume, mainstream energy drinks have approximately less caffeine than a cup of filter drip coffee (80 – 140 milligrams per energy drink versus 179 mg per 237 ml cup of coffee),” the letter stated.

“Nowhere in Canada are there energy drink products with caffeine approaching the levels you suggest in your article, although Canadians regularly consume some coffee products that come close.”

Health Canada backed up the industry group’s claim regarding how the products are regulated.

“Due to their medicinal ingredients (such as caffeine, taurine and vitamins), and the claims they make, energy drinks are regulated in Canada as natural health products (NHPs) under the Natural Health Products Regulations, not as foods as was stated in the article,” the department said in an emailed response to questions.

The drinks must list recommended conditions for use and warnings on their labels, the email added.

In an interview, Refreshments Canada communications director Alan Grant insisted the group’s members — beverage heavyweights like Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola and Red Bull — don’t target children in their advertising. “Our members adhere to responsible marketing practices,” he said.

But advertising isn’t the only way to bring one’s product to the attention of a target audience. Strategic sponsorships are effective ways of generating product buzz within desired demographic groups.

Two of the biggest stars of the Vancouver Olympics, downhill skier Lindsey Vonn and snowboarding phenom Shaun White, are both sponsored by Red Bull, one of the best known energy drinks on the burgeoning market. Commentators often noted during competitions that Red Bull had built White his own practice half-pipe. Vonn, who arrived in Vancouver nursing a shin injury, told a packed news conference she’d been looked after by Team Red Bull in Europe during the agonizing wait to see if she could compete.

Hebert said the idea for the editorial arose in June, when one of the journal’s editors was walking her 11-year-old to school. They passed a convenience store where a bunch of kids had congregated. Littered around the front were discarded energy drink cans.

The editorial noted that caffeine pills, which contain several times less caffeine than energy drinks, come with mandatory health warnings against use by children and cautions to limit use because excess caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness and even rapid heart rate on occasion.

The editorial called for labelling that represents the total caffeine content of the drinks set out in ways the public can understand, such as how many cups of coffee an energy drink would equate to. Currently the labels talk about milligrams of caffeine, which demands consumers know recommended daily limits.

Grant said Refreshments Canada feels the labelling and regulation of these products is adequate as is. “It’s our belief that specific restrictions are unnecessary for this small segment of the market,” he said.

But others supported the thrust of the journal’s editorial.

“Parents and independent experts know that kids need to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less white flour, added sugar and trans fat-laden oils and sugary soft drinks to have fit, healthy bodies and minds,” said Bill Jeffery, national co-ordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

“Governments have to do a better job of protecting kids from clever marketers who have no compunctions about flogging chemical buzzes and mildly addictive junk foods.”

And Toronto dietician Rosie Schwartz said parents need more help figuring out what is in products like energy drinks, help they could get from clearer labelling rules from Health Canada.“Kids with behavioural problems, with hyperactivity, kids who may have sleep problems and mood disorders and behave in a hyperactive way — how much of that is due to food and beverage choices?” she asked.

“Whether it be artificial dyes or whether it be due to caffeine, I don’t think parents are getting a lot of help from Health Canada.”

Health Canada suggests kids aged 10 to 12 shouldn’t consume more than 85 mg of caffeine a day, which is about a can or two of cola. With younger children, the recommended maximum is even lower: 45 mg for children aged four to six and 62.5 mg for children aged seven to nine.

The department doesn’t have a specific recommendation for kids 13 and older, saying they don’t have enough data to calculate one. They suggest a weight-based approach be used, with teens not consuming more than 2.5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight per day.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read