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Nutritionist Threatened for 'Demonstrably False' Statement About Energy Drinks

From guest blogger Gina Cairney

Research has shown that energy drinks, with their concentration of ingredients like caffeine and taurine, may not be good for children and should not be the "go to" drink of choice for student-athletes.

Despite these warnings by health experts and supporting research, a pediatric nutritionist in Connecticut is being threatened with a possible lawsuit by an energy-drink company, according to the Hartford Courant, after her monthly newsletter warned parents about the dangers associated with energy drinks, even suggesting that children should never drink them.

Deborah Kennedy received a cease-and-desist letter from Monster Beverage Co. after she published a newsletter saying that the caffeine content in energy drinks is unregulated and that children have died from drinking the beverages.

While Monster itself was never mentioned in Kennedy's newsletter, the company's lawyers wrote in the letter that her statements were "demonstrably false" with "no basis in fact," according to the Courant, and the newsletter's content was "disparaging and defamatory and have undoubtedly materially damaged Monster and its well-known brand."

For support, Kennedy reached out to Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut who, the Courant reported, has called on the Food and Drug Administration to investigate how safe energy drinks are and questioned the marketing practices of energy drinks targeting youths.

"I wouldn't put children on that many stimulants in one drink," Kennedy told the Courant. She believes that there should be a ban on energy-drink sales to children younger than 18.

But Kennedy isn't alone in spotlighting the health risks of energy drinks.

Eighteen doctors from institutions including Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Maryland School of Public Health have sent letters to the FDA, according to Bloomberg, saying energy drinks shouldn't have more caffeine than that found in sodas, and caffeine content should be labeled clearly.

Energy Drinks and Youths

More research is needed to fully understand how the combination of ingredients in energy drinks affects children's health, but the drinks themselves don't have any benefits for the children who consume them, Dr. Steven Lipshultz, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine told the environmental news site Mother Nature Network.

Lipshultz cites common misconception among teenagers that the energy drinks will give them well, more energy, or help with weight loss and improve athletic performance, but there's no proof that the drinks do any of these things.

"In the absence of a benefit, these drinks shouldn't be something that kids use," Lipshultz told Mother Nature Network.

Energy drinks contain a combination of chemicals including guarana, taurine, ginseng, and caffeine, all of which can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, according to Dr. John Higgins, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Last month, the European Food Safety Authority published a report that looks at data on energy-drink consumption by specific population groups, including children and teens.

Between February and November 2012, a survey was sent to more than 52,000 participants from 16 European Union Member States, including 32,000 adolescents (10- to 18-years-old) and 5,000 children (3- to 10-years-old).

Approximately 70 percent of adolescents who were interviewed considered themselves energy-drink consumers. Out of that group, 12 percent considered themselves "high chronic" consumers, drinking on average almost two gallons of energy drinks per month.

Of the approximately 20 percent of 3- to 10-year-olds who were interviewed and identified as consumers, 16 percent were "high chronic," averaging about one gallon of energy drinks per month.

My colleague Bryan Toporek wrote before about a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics that suggested all student-athletes should avoid energy drinks and sports drinks during and after exercise.

The authors of that report concluded that energy and sports drinks don't belong in a student-athlete's diet because of its effects on health, including obesity and possible caffeine addiction.

Water may be tasteless and boring, but when it comes to the health of students, especially those participating in athletic programs, research suggests that the risks associated with consuming too much caffeine, and other ingredients found in energy drinks may not be worth it.

Much of the advertising may be targeting younger people, but experts say it's important for parents, coaches, and community members to educate young people—athletes or not—on the dangers of drinking too many energy drinks or other caffeine-heavy products, including the possibility of death.

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