Study: Growing number of calls to poison centers involve kids and energy drinks

Updated 8:59 AM EDT, Thu May 7, 2015
Now playing
01:11
Put down that energy drink!
empty plate
PHOTO: Banana Stock
empty plate
Now playing
01:01
Intermittent fasting may help you live longer
PHOTO: David McNew/Getty Images
Now playing
01:03
Get outside to improve your health
PHOTO: Photo Illustration/Thinkstock
Now playing
01:04
This string may help you live to be 100
Now playing
01:10
Is sitting the new smoking?
PHOTO: Shutterstock
Now playing
01:13
Cut this food and extend your life
Meditation has become increasingly popular in the West since the 1960s.
PHOTO: Courtesy Katrin Wuertemberger/Bongarts/Getty Images
Meditation has become increasingly popular in the West since the 1960s.
Now playing
01:19
How every person can benefit from meditation
wine glasses
PHOTO: Comstock
wine glasses
Now playing
01:17
Drink this daily and you may live longer
PHOTO: Shutterstock
Now playing
01:20
How listening to music helps your brain
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 01:  Race goes enjoy the atmosphere during The Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse November 1, 2005 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Kristian Dowling/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 01: Race goes enjoy the atmosphere during The Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse November 1, 2005 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:13
Saying this word can extend your life
MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 09:  FC Bayern Muenchen sporting manager Matthias Sammer laughs during a press conference at the Bayern Muenchen training ground on July 9, 2014 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Image
MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 09: FC Bayern Muenchen sporting manager Matthias Sammer laughs during a press conference at the Bayern Muenchen training ground on July 9, 2014 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:20
Does laughing make you healthier?
A fruit plate is seen at the Buchinger-Wilhelmi Clinic in Ueberlingen, southern Germany, on March 24, 2014. High-end clinics specialising in deprivation rather than pampering are all the rage in Germany, one of the homes of the fasting movement, and in some cases it is even covered by health insurance plans. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE        (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A fruit plate is seen at the Buchinger-Wilhelmi Clinic in Ueberlingen, southern Germany, on March 24, 2014. High-end clinics specialising in deprivation rather than pampering are all the rage in Germany, one of the homes of the fasting movement, and in some cases it is even covered by health insurance plans. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:21
The best diets have this in common
Now playing
01:23
How to stop mindless eating
Beautiful girl sleeps in the bedroom, lying on bed, isolated
PHOTO: shutterstock
Beautiful girl sleeps in the bedroom, lying on bed, isolated
Now playing
01:27
To get good sleep, set thermostat at this
Now playing
01:31
Do this at 50 and you could live to 100
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
01:38
Trick your kids into eating healthy

Story highlights

40% of "energy drink exposure" calls to poison control centers are for children under 6

Study authors believe the number is under-counted

The FDA does not set a caffeine limit for children

(CNN) —  

Energy drinks can pose a real problem for children, according to a new study from the American Heart Association.

Researchers found that 40% of the 5,156 calls to poison centers for “energy drink exposure” involved children under age 6. In most of the cases, the parents didn’t know the children had gotten hold of an energy drink. Many of the calls reported the children were experiencing serious side effects, such as an abnormal heart rhythm, or they were having a seizure.

The study is being presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions this week.

Study: Caffeine affects teen boys more

Study author Dr. Steven Lipshultz has handled cases involving children who became sick after consuming energy drinks. While studies about the impact of caffeine on children are limited, Lipshultz, a professor and chairman of pediatrics at Wayne State University, said adolescents can experience serious problems after drinking only 100 mg of caffeine. Younger children would feel effects after drinking even less, he said.

Some energy drinks contain more than 300 mg of caffeine and it can come in a combination of pharmaceutical-grade caffeine and “natural” additives. Earlier studies have shown caffeine combinations may cause more problems for people.

Lipshultz said he believes the number of cases associated with energy drinks and children are higher than what’s reported in this study. That’s because parents of children who get sick after consuming too much caffeine do not always call the hot line; they may go straight to the emergency room instead. The study did not look at those numbers.

“The reported data probably represent the tip of the iceberg,” Lipshultz said.

“This is a very concerning finding,” said Dr. Laurence Sperling. Sperling is the medical director of the preventive cardiology clinic at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. “It further points out that we need to be very responsible about who utilizes energy drinks, because they are potentially harmful to adults, but as this report points out, may be of greater concern to those who are young.”

The Food and Drug Administration does not set a standard for what is considered a safe amount of caffeine for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics prefers children consume no caffeine, although about 73% of children do every day, according to their research. Children and adolescents are the fastest growing population of caffeine users, studies show.

Can you OD on caffeine?

For healthy adults, the FDA suggests moderate amounts of caffeine are not harmful. The agency considers a “moderate amount” between 100 to 200 mg (one to two 5-ounce cups of coffee). Other FDA guidance has cited 400 mg a day, or about four or five cups of coffee, “as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.”

More than 600 mg a day is considered too much, according to the FDA, although the impact caffeine has on someone varies based on their size, their gender, or how sensitive they are to caffeine.

The study’s researchers would like the government to improve the labeling of energy drinks. Energy drink makers are not required to list the amount of caffeine in a drink, because caffeine is not a nutrient, and the laws currently only require nutrients be listed in the dietary information on food or beverages.

The American Beverage Association recommends that energy drink makers identify the quantity of caffeine from all sources. The association suggests listing this in a part of the label that is separate from the nutrition information. The association also suggests including the advisory “not (intended/recommended) for children, pregnant or nursing women (and/or persons/those) sensitive to caffeine.” Monster Energy, for instance, added the caffeine content and warning to its labels in 2013. But because this is not required by law, not all energy drink labels contain such warnings.

In 2010 the FDA banned combination alcohol-and-energy drinks and calls to poison control centers for this particular combination fell sharply.

Caffeine 101

“We should consider appropriate labeling in light of this finding to help protect those who are consciously drinking the energy drinks, but also to protect those who may be drinking them unaware,” Sperling said. “We need to consider these energy drinks and their potential effects on the heart and vasculature and recognize that they are not benign.”