The family of reality-TV star and child beauty pageant competitor Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson definitely take the trophy when it comes to an unhealthy lifestyle. But, while the family's aversion to exercise and love of cheese balls might eventually lead to long-term health issues, one particularly unhealthy habit might land Honey Boo Boo in the emergency room as quick as she can wag her little finger.
Honey likes to perk up before pageants by drinking a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull -- a potentially dangerous high-sugar, high-caffeine cocktail for anyone, much less a 7-year-old. Honey Boo Boo isn't alone when it comes to kids getting jacked up on energy drinks, a beverage category that continues to enjoy skyrocketing popularity. Several of her Toddlers & Tiaras co-stars (the reality show where Honey Boo Boo was "discovered") also pop energy drinks before their stage walks.
Warning to parents
The increasing use of energy drinks among younger consumers has pediatricians and other health experts sounding the alarm: Children and adolescents should never consume energy drinks.
Energy drinks were responsible for 21,000 emergency room visits in 2011, more than double the 7,000 energy drink-related ER visits in 2007. Energy drinks alone were responsible for 58 percent of those visits, the other 42 percent attributable to a mix of energy drinks and drugs or alcohol.
Approximately 24 percent to 57 percent of consumers age 11 to 35 reported they drank an energy drink within the past few months, according to a 2010 study by Nova Southeastern University. And 46 percent of the 5,448 caffeine overdoses reported in 2007 were in those younger than age 19.
Your child's body on energy drinks
Energy drinks can do serious damage to a child's heart, as described by Dr. John Higgins, associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, in a recent Huffington Post piece. In a 2010 study, Higgins and other researchers found four deaths and five reports of seizures linked to energy drinks. Warning signs of toxicity include heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and headache.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that children should not consume more than 100 mg of caffeine a day, the equivalent of an 8 oz cup of coffee. A can of soda typically has 25 mgs of caffeine. The Mayo Clinic offers a breakdown of the caffeine levels found in the most popular energy drinks, and other beverages, in the United States. Consumer Reports measured the caffeine levels in 27 energy drink products in its December 2012 issue.
Honey Boo Boo's Mountain Dew/Red Bull concoction has anywhere from 112 to 135 mgs of caffeine.
Medical reports have documented cases of teens developing irregular heart beats, known as cardiac arrhythmia, after consuming highly caffeinated energy drinks, requiring medical and pharmacological intervention to return their heart beats to normal.
Under FDA investigation
It's not just the extremely high, and often undisclosed, levels of caffeine that can do damage. Energy drinks usually contain multiple herbal supplements, such as guarana, ginseng, and taurine, which also affect the body's metabolism and increase heart rate and blood pressure. Unlike traditional medicine, herbal supplements aren't required by the Food and Drug Administration to go through clinical trials before going to market to determine their efficacy, or safety.
The FDA is currently investigating two energy drinks for adverse event reports: 5-Hour Energy, possibly linked to 13 deaths, and Monster Energy, possibly linked to five deaths, including that of a 14-year-old girl.
While energy drink manufacturers claim they aren't targeting kids with their product, the American Beverage Association recently adopted guidelines encouraging that these companies "voluntarily display caffeine amounts from all sources on their packages along with an advisory statement that the product is not intended or recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women and persons sensitive to caffeine."
However, the companies aren't bound by those guidelines, and neither Monster Energy nor 5-Hour Energy disclose that information on the packaging, or on their websites, which are dominated by endorsements from high-profile athletes and rock stars -- just the types of people that teens tend to want to emulate.