A local teacher asked me to address the increasing number of kids who are drinking energy drinks. What are the potential harms of consuming them? The energy drink business is booming. It is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. beverage industry and big business with 2012 sales topping $12.5 billion (a 60 percent increase from 2008).

There is no doubt that companies' slick marketing campaigns have appeal to children and young adults. It's estimated that 30 to 50 percent of these groups have used the drinks at some point. The beverage industry argues that these products are no more dangerous than consuming other caffeinated beverages.

While that may be true, one of the problems lies with these drinks being categorized as "nutritional supplements" by the FDA. This categorization allows them to avoid the law that limits the amount of caffeine in sodas to 71 milligrams (mg) per 12 ounce serving. Many of these drinks have far more than that. I've listed the caffeine content of some of the most popular drinks in comparison to soda and coffee in the accompanying table (the listings for over 500 drinks can be found at www.energyfiend.com).

How much caffeine is safe to consume in children and young adults? We simply don't have the data. There are also no good studies out there looking at caffeine in combination with the numerous other additives often found in these drinks. Many people use the logic that if a soda or cup of coffee helps them stay alert, more must be better.

There are about 1,200 cases of caffeine poisoning a year reported to poison centers in the United States Excess caffeine ingestion can be associated with palpitations, fast heartbeats, seizures, strokes, restlessness, sleep disturbances, and mood & behavior disorders. It has also been associated with sudden death, particularly in those who have underlying heart problems. Consuming excess caffeine with medications can also cause serious drug interactions.

Pharmacologic effects of large doses of caffeine aside, my bigger concern is why kids are consuming these drinks in the first place. A lot of it has to do with marketing - seeing what actors can get done in a day while using the product. Kids are also using them to survive the ever-increasing demands on their time. We expect kids to do well in school and to be involved in multiple extra-curricular activities including sports year-round. They also have to find time for video gaming, social networking, hanging out with friends, etc.

Kids require nine hours or more of sleep a night; they are averaging much less. Humans have evolved to require a certain amount of sleep - you may have heard it's best not to fool Mother Nature. Kids often use energy drinks to combat their constant state of fatigue and sleepiness - it's a vicious cycle that likely is perpetuated into adulthood. The kids have trouble staying awake to learn now and will probably have trouble concentrating when they enter the workforce.

A very worrisome trend is using energy drinks in combination with alcohol. Kids (especially those in college) are using these drinks as a way to stay "alert" so they can consume more alcohol. However, energy drinks do absolutely nothing to lower blood alcohol levels. Numerous studies have shown that young adults who combine these drinks with alcohol have a false sense of security and end up becoming more impaired - they can make a drunk driver even more dangerous.

So, while energy drinks are touted to be no worse than other caffeinated beverages, I hope adults will take the time to review with kids the their very real downside.

Drink Serving (oz.) mg of caffeine

5 Hour Energy 2 138

Coke Classic 12 34

Coffee (brewed) 8 108

Monster Energy Drink 16 160

Mountain Dew 12 54

NOS Energy Drink 16 260

Red Bull 8.5 80

Starbucks Tall Coffee 12 260