Caffeinated Teens

November 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The combination of caffeine and kids has proven to be a dangerous mix and in a few cases, even deadly.School nurses in the valley say energy drinks and coffee are a big problem, and poison control centers have noted a spike in calls about caffeine poisoning.

A nervous tick and a restless leg; when school nurses see this, they see telltale signs of a student who drank too much caffeine. Jeanne Prandini, R.N. Clovis Unified Nursing Services Coordinator, says "Jitteriness, nervousness, nausea, stomachache. Those are your more common side effects; or the feeling that their heart is pounding. That's kind of a common complaint."

We talked to both school nurses and doctors in local ER's who say those cases are alarming. Dr. Richard Church, Toxicologist, says "We were noticing an influx of patients in our emergency departments who were coming in with caffeine-related complaints and symptoms after drinking energy drinks."

A University of Massachusetts study found 46-hundred caffeine-related calls to poison control centers in one year. More than half of them came from people under the age of 19. Many of those calls are for relatively harmless and reversible symptoms like the jitters, but there can be permanent damage.

Kim Tirapelle, Community Health Centers Nutritionist, says "Some of the extreme cases that we've heard of is kids having heart attacks and/or stroke and/or they develop heart murmurs that they have for the rest of their life?most kids, caffeine is no big deal, unless they can't have it."

Daniel Knowles, 18-year-old coffee drinker, says "If I wake up in the morning and don't drink coffee, there'll be times where every 2 hours, if I don't have coffee, I'll get massive headaches and I can't really function correctly."

Rafael Salazar, 16-year-old coffee drinker, says "When I don't have caffeine, I'm usually falling asleep and not paying attention in class. And when I am drinking coffee, I'm really awake and paying attention. Rafael Salazar says about half of his classmates at Fresno High School are dosing up on caffeine."

He's just drinking coffee, but a lot of kids are grabbing energy drinks like red bull, monster, or amp before school starts or after school ends, like when they're taking to the athletic fields. Teens say it gives them a boost when they're playing, but school nurses say that's trouble waiting to happen.

"It really isn't the preferred drink to give somebody before they go out and play a really hard soccer game because it's a diuretic and the combination of sweating and the effects of a diuretic can increase the potential of dehydration," says R.N. Pradini.

Energy drinks are a five billion dollar a year industry and they promote their high octane products heavily, targeting alternative sports like skateboarding, motocross, and snowboarding. But the beverage makers claim their marketing targets everyone, not just kids.

These valley teens were surprised to find out where they were getting the most caffeine.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says a single, 16-ounce; grande cup of Starbucks coffee has a whopping 320 milligrams of caffeine. 320 milligrams! To put that into perspective, that's the same amount as you'll get from 2 monsters, or 4 red bulls, or almost an entire 8-pack of soda. Doctors say, no matter what the combination is it's 3 times as much caffeine as a teenager should have in one day.

Right now, the only Food and Drug Administration regulation on caffeine is a limit on how much of it can be in regular sodas.

"Should a child be able to go into Starbuck's? I think they need to be given the education and information as far as what caffeine does to your body. I don't think we can probably go in and tell kids they can't go in and buy coffee," says nutritionist Tirapelle.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking the FDA to apply similar limits to energy drinks and to force anyone selling caffeine products to reveal exactly how much caffeine they contain. They say, at least that way, caffeine shouldn't take anyone on a surprise trip to the emergency room.

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