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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Keeping caffeine from kids

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Long Island, New York's Suffolk County may soon ban the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to people under age 19. Leaders there are apparently concerned about the potential health hazards posed to teens who drink such beverages; the ban would apply to beverages containing 80 milligrams or more of caffeine. (They're not talking about beverages that contain both alcohol and caffeine, which have recently drawn fire -- and increased FDA scrutiny -- for the documented harm they've done to young people.)

Energy drinks are high in caffeine, which can cause anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, high blood pressure and heart palpitations. (Alamy)

It is none of my business what the people of Suffolk County do to regulate energy-drink sales in their jurisdiction. And I'm not a huge fan of energy drinks myself. But targeting those drinks seems odd to me, especially since it's not clear how harmful they are to kids and teens, especially if they're consumed in moderation. (Yes, I know, teenagers aren't known for their moderation.) Plus, as representatives of the beverage industry rightly note, energy drinks don't typically have much, if any, more caffeine than standard coffee-house drinks, which are also popular among some young people.

While some people are more sensitive to caffeine's effects, ill and otherwise, than others, the substance's role in human health has yet to be fully sorted out. Even as the leaders of Suffolk County ponder their proposal, for instance, a new study shows that caffeine, when consumed with glucose, may improve cognitive function.

I'm not recommending that youngsters be encouraged to take up drinking energy drinks to boost their brains; nor do I think it's a good idea for anyone to overindulge in, well, much of anything. But I'm really not in favor of legislative action regarding food and beverage consumption based on incomplete information. And shouldn't parents have some say in what their children are allowed to drink?

Speaking of brain boosts, here's a tidbit you might want to share with your kids. A study published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior finds that academic achievement in high school is associated with better health way down the road. Researchers drew on data from a big survey of people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957; the participants had been resurveyed on several occasions as they have aged. Turns out that those who had performed the best academically -- as measured by class rank -- were least likely to have suffered worsening health between 1992 and 2003, as they neared retirement age. The researchers are still trying to figure out why.

It's hard to impress upon young people the future consequences of their actions: I can't imagine many kids hitting the books extra hard to make sure they'll be healthy when they're old fogeys, and I don't think kids who are inclined to drink energy drinks are likely to be swayed by the prospect of being harmed by too much caffeine.

But who knows? Maybe we should pass a law requiring kids to get good grades.

Vote in today's poll!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | December 9, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alcohol and Drugs, Cardiovascular Health, Dietary supplements, FDA, Food Safety and Recalls, Kids' health, Nutrition and Fitness, Parenting, Prevention, Psychology, Teens  
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