Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Buzz kill: Spokane schools trying to discourage students from ‘energy’ drinks

There’s been quite a buzz lately over energy drinks.

British lawmakers have banned sales to minors. And legislators in South Carolina tried to do the same last spring after a high-schooler died from a caffeine overdose.

That effort failed, as it has elsewhere in the United States despite abundant scientific evidence that adolescents probably would be better off not ingesting 100 milligrams of caffeine in a single serving. That’s about as much as in an 8-ounce cup of coffee or two cans of Mountain Dew.

And just like coffee and pop, any Spokane fifth-grader can buy caffeinated drinks legally at any supermarket or quick stop, no questions asked.

For many youths, the day begins with a Starbucks, Red Bull or a can of soda. On the first day of school in Spokane, some high-schoolers were downing a Monster Drink on the way to class. Middle-schoolers arrived with a latte in hand.

“That’s not what our kids need,” said Doug Wordell, a triathlete who also is the head of nutrition services for Spokane Public Schools. “Students shouldn’t settle into a routine that may include a kick-start to the day – perhaps with bad consequences.

“They need to be hydrated, and they should be drinking water.”

Increasingly, they’re not. Nationwide, 83 percent of teens drink caffeinated beverages on a regular basis, with 96 percent consuming them at least occasionally.

Some point out that a 12-ounce can of Red Bull has far less caffeine than a similar-sized Starbucks Pike Place and about the same sugar content as a 12-ounce can of regular Coca-Cola.

The problem is, energy drinks contain both of these picker-uppers, along with B vitamins, guarana, ginseng, green tea extracts and taurine – all known energy inducers.

Most experts agree those levels are safe for most adults but not for children.

Because caffeine is naturally bitter, a lot of sugar is added to these drinks. That can lead to a sugar high and, later, a sugar crash – not the best choice for teens who already are deprived because of late-night distractions from electronic devices.

Teens aren’t listening to advice from health care professionals; instead, they’re getting the message from energy-drink companies, whose messages often are shown during football games, Formula One races and snowboarding competitions.

Teens are drinking up that message to the tune of $16.3 billion in sales in 2016 and rising. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, alongside multivitamins, energy drinks are the most sought-after dietary supplement consumed by teens and young adults.

And here’s a jolt for parents: About one-third of kids ages 12 to 17 regularly consume energy drinks.

“That’s not the model we want to provide – we talk about not having energy drinks as nutrition,” said Wordell, who points out that Spokane Public Schools stopped offering sodas containing sugar in 2004.

In accordance with federal Smart Snacks guidelines, energy drinks are nowhere to be found.

In Spokane middle and elementary schools, cafeterias offer water, unflavored low-fat milk, flavored or unflavored nonfat milk (and milk alternatives); 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices, and full-strength juice diluted with water, carbonated or noncarbonated, with no added sweeteners.

High schools allow sales of caffeinated beverages such as coffee and sodas.

However, all beverages meet or exceed Smart Snacks requirements, Wordell said.

Of course, good nutrition begins at home – with at least eight hours of sleep the night before.