Energy drinks are not new products. But while you’ve probably only noticed them at gas stations, supermarkets, and convenience stores, their presence is becoming ubiquitous in a different place altogether: the social media feeds of your tweens and teens.
The term “energy” refers specifically to drinks containing stimulant ingredients, namely caffeine, meant to give whoever consumes them a mental and physical “boost.” Although they’ve been on the market for years, they are growing in popularity, appealing to younger consumers through a wide range of marketing tactics and endorsements from celebrities and social media influencers.
For many tweens and teens, energy drinks have become a bit of a status symbol, a trend that is likely to continue as kids head back to school. The drinks are colorful, come in flavors like ice pop, tropical vibe and Hawaiian shaved ice, and pair well with Tik Tok dances and stunts.
Popular brands among young consumers include Monster, Celcius, Alani Nu, and most recently, Prime. Monster is owned by Coca-Cola and is known for sponsoring sporting events and musicians around the world. Pepsi recently invested a whopping 550 million dollars on Celcius, which has also relied heavily on its partnerships with celebrities to promote its products. Alani Nu and Prime were both founded by social media influencers, Katy Hearn and Logan Paul respectively, and have partnered with social media-famous celebrities like Addison Rae and Kim Kardashian to make custom flavors and promote across their platforms.
What’s actually in these ‘energy boosters?’
On average, popular energy drinks contain between 120mg and 200mg of caffeine per 12-ounce serving. For comparison, 200mg of caffeine is roughly the amount present in six cans of Coke, or two cups of coffee. As a central nervous system stimulant, the amount of caffeine in one serving of these drinks can give anyone the jitters. Tweens and teens are at an even higher risk of experiencing adverse effects from caffeine due to their smaller body weight.
The adverse effects of caffeine in teens can include anxiety, headaches, gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, heart palpitations and disruptions of the sleep cycle. As a known diuretic, a large amount of caffeine can also lead to dehydration. When teens consume more than one serving at a time — as they may do when trying different flavors with friends — the additional caffeine can have more serious side effects, such as abnormal heart rhythms and seizures.
Beyond the side effects, the term “energy drink” is also misleading. The drinks are intended to be stimulating, bringing about a rush that is often followed by a crash. But they are not true energy of the type you get from a good night sleep and a nutritious meal. This type of energy is what the developing brain of tweens and teens need most.
Here’s what to fuel your teens with instead
Instead of energy drinks, set your teen up for success by helping them establish healthy habits. Start the night before by encouraging your teen to wind down for bed as early as possible and removing all electronics from the room. Teens who keep their phone in their room are likely to spend hours texting or on social media, which deprives them of the opportunity to rest and refuel.
In the morning, help them get into a breakfast routine that includes a healthy source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals. Sources of protein can include eggs, Greek yogurt, nuts, nut butters, or cheese. Oatmeal and cereals high in fiber make for excellent sources of complex carbohydrates that are digested slowly and can help prevent mid-morning energy crashes. Look for at least 5 grams of fiber in the label and “whole grain” as the first ingredient. And last but not least, add fruits for a source of vitamins, minerals and, most importantly, flavor.
In addition to establishing healthy habits and routines, make sure to talk to tweens and teens about the risks of energy drinks. Having a conversation ahead of time and encouraging them to come up with creative ways to decline them while with friends makes it more likely they’ll stick to the healthy habits you’ve created as a family.
Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez is a practicing pediatrician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, a contributing editor to SheKnows, and a mom to an active toddler.