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Journal raises red flag about caffeine drinks

TORONTO - The Canadian Medical Association Journal is voicing alarm over the increasing popularity among kids and teens of highly caffeinated energy drinks.

TORONTO - The Canadian Medical Association Journal is voicing alarm over the increasing popularity among kids and teens of highly caffeinated energy drinks.

"Caffeine-loaded energy drinks have now crossed the line from beverages to drugs delivered as tasty syrups," senior editors of the journal said in an editorial released Monday.

They argue Health Canada should require producers to use clearer labelling and should bar promotion targeting the child-and-teen market. They also suggest parents need to be informed about the caffeine contents of the drinks their kids are downing.

"We need to educate parents and kids that these things are addictive or are potentially addictive. They carry concerns with use," Dr. Paul Hebert, editor-in-chief and one of the signatories to the editorial, said in an interview.

The editorial said some energy drinks contain the caffeine equivalent of 10 cans of cola and note the effects of high concentrations of caffeine in kids should be concerning. Excess caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability, rapid heart rate and sleeplessness, which itself can cause a domino effect of problems in kids.

But Refreshments Canada, an umbrella organization representing beverage producers, took exception to the editorial, suggesting it contains a number of inaccuracies.

Alan Grant, director of communications, said the group's members — beverage heavyweights like Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola — don't target children in their advertising. "Our members adhere to responsible marketing practices," he said.

A statement issued under the name of association president Justin Sherwood also disputed the journal's suggestion that energy drink labelling needs to be updated to carry warnings about potential side-effects from their consumption.

"These energy drinks are intended for adults and clearly indicate on the label that this category of beverage is not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and people who are sensitive to caffeine," the statement said.

But others supported the thrust of the journal's editorial.

"Parents and independent experts know that kids need to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less white flour, added sugar and trans fat-laden oils and sugary soft drinks to have fit, healthy bodies and minds," said Bill Jeffery, national co-ordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

"Governments have to do a better job of protecting kids from clever marketers who have no compunctions about flogging chemical buzzes and mildly addictive junk foods."

And Toronto dietitian Rosie Schwartz said parents need more help figuring out what is in products like energy drinks, help they could get from clearer labelling rules from Health Canada.

"Kids with behavioural problems, with hyperactivity, kids who may have sleep problems and mood disorders and behave in a hyperactive way — how much of that is due to food and beverage choices?" she asked.

"Whether it be artificial dyes or whether it be due to caffeine, I don't think parents are getting a lot of help from Health Canada."

Health Canada suggests kids aged 10 to 12 shouldn't consume more than 85 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is about a can or two of cola. With younger children, the recommended maximum is even lower: 45 mg for children aged four to six and 62.5 mg for children aged seven to nine.

The department doesn't have a specific recommendation for kids 13 and older, saying they don't have enough data to calculate one. They suggest a weight-based approach be used, with teens not consuming more than 2.5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight per day.

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