Bad en­ergy

The Pilot - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages

Your pre-teen or teenaged son or daugh­ter feels groggy be­fore school, so they grab an en­ergy drink from the fridge or the cor­ner store and down it on the way to class.

For many youth, this prac­tice has re­placed break­fast or even a morn­ing cup of cof­fee.

The prom­ise of these bev­er­ages is the pick-me-up and boost in men­tal alert­ness, per­haps even “sports en­ergy” for ath­letes — all in one con­ve­nient can.

The re­al­ity, though, is en­ergy drinks could be far more detri­men­tal than help­ful.

We’ve known for a while that the vol­ume of caf­feine in many en­ergy drinks can ex­ceed the max­i­mum daily in­take for chil­dren, along with plenty of sugar. Even so, the Cana­dian Pae­di­atric So­ci­ety had stopped short of tak­ing a po­si­tion on sports and en­ergy drinks other than to sug­gest non- ath­letes avoid them.

No of­fi­cial po­si­tion, that is, un­til re­cently.

Back in April, a teenaged boy in the U.S. col­lapsed after down­ing an en­ergy drink, pop and a café latte within two hours. The teen likely died from a caf­feine-in­duced heart ar­rhyth­mia, de­spite hav­ing no pre-ex­ist­ing heart con­di­tion.

This and other cases prompted the pe­di­atric so­ci­ety in this coun­try to rec­om­mend against peo­ple aged zero to 18 con­sum­ing en­ergy drinks.

The so­ci­ety’s an­nounce­ment is an­other step in the right di­rec­tion for kids’ health — schools in many At­lantic Canada school ju­ris­dic­tions have al­ready banned the con­sump­tion of these bev­er­ages, so this latest warn­ing is an­other shot across the bow for the Mon­sters, Red Bulls and Ga­torades of the world.

Lest you feel too badly for these poor, be­lea­guered en­ergy drink mak­ers, con­sider all the slick mar­ket­ing, cool com­mer­cials, celebrity en­dorse­ments and pro­fes­sional sport spon­sor­ships that come along with them, much of it tar­geted to the younger de­mo­graphic.

That’s why the pe­di­atric so­ci­ety’s strong po­si­tion should only be the start of some­thing more con­crete when it comes to youth and en­ergy drinks.

On­tario pe­di­a­tri­cian Dr. Cather­ine Pound, a co-au­thor of the so­ci­ety’s state­ment, mused about re­strict­ing use of en­ergy drinks to adults, sim­i­lar to al­co­hol or cig­a­rettes.

It’s a sug­ges­tion worth con­sid­er­ing.

Some store own­ers in this re­gion have dis­cussed in the past ask­ing for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion when sell­ing en­ergy drinks to cus­tomers who are un­der the age of 18, while some ac­tu­ally went as far as to im­ple­ment the prac­tice.

This com­bined with mak­ing warn­ing la­bels on en­ergy drink cans manda­tory, would go a long way to curb­ing their use among youth.

After all, if the Cana­dian Pae­di­atric So­ci­ety is telling us youth shouldn’t be drink­ing these prod­ucts, why not take the de­ci­sion out of the hands of the pop­u­la­tion they tar­get?

Let’s take these warn­ings one step fur­ther and ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of mit­i­gat­ing the po­ten­tially harm­ful ef­fects from ever hap­pen­ing in the first place.

The prom­ise of these drinks and the money be­hind the cam­paigns will make them dif­fi­cult to re­sist. We must find the en­ergy to keep a po­ten­tially harm­ful prod­uct from the hands of our kids.

Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 30 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

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