Member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary, Jane Shearer, is speaking out in effort to warn parents, coaches and medical professionals about the risks that are associated with the consumption of high-caffeine energy drinks.

Many of these energy drinks, which are easily found in convenience stores, tend to be marketed in ways that make them look more appealing to children and young adults – for example, friendly and colourful packaging; and while they might seem enticing to someone looking for a quick and easy energy boost, Shearer warns that consumption of these beverages in anyone under the age of 18 could potentially result in serious health problems. In fact, many of these caffeinated drinks have been found to contain levels way past Health Canada’s recommended guidelines – sometimes by as much as double the amount. An energy drink also becomes much more problematic in a child with an underlying health condition; for example, a heart problem or asthma, and drinking these beverages may result in an exacerbation of those conditions which can lead to adverse events, and in some cases even death.

Aside from being marketed towards younger individuals, energy drinks are also often disguised to look like sports drinks – with packaging looking similar to drinks like Gatorade or Powerade – which means your child might actually be consuming a highly caffeinated energy drink without even realizing it. The main difference between energy drinks and sports drinks, however, is that sports drinks do not contain caffeine, so it’s always important to read product labels before consumption.

Aside from exacerbating underlying medical conditions, other adverse events that are associated with the consumption of high-caffeine energy drinks include increased blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. If your child experiences any of these sudden changes with their health or says they feel “off” in any way, you should seek medical attention for them right away – either by seeing your family physician or going to the nearest emergency room – as it could be a matter of life or death. Caffeine also isn’t the only concern when it comes to energy drinks, as they’re also high in sugar. Increased sugar intake can lead to things like diabetes and obesity, says family physician Dr. Ali Ghahary, which can also have a negative impact on one’s health.

To prevent the aforementioned adverse events from occurring and for better overall health, the Canadian Paediatric Society strongly urges physicians and families to educate children about the potentially serious dangers associated with high-caffeine energy drinks, and also says there needs to be tougher legislation that prevents these drinks from being marketed to younger individuals. In addition, health researchers also say it would be a good idea to incorporate the dangers of these beverages in both school and after-school programs, as the more education and information that is provided, the more people will be aware of the risks involved.