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Are your kids active enough?

This week, the spotlight’s on children and teenagers—and whether they’re getting the exercise they need.

Previously HPRC reported on how much physical activity healthy adults need. This week, the spotlight’s on children and teenagers—and whether they’re getting the exercise they need.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, including:

  • Aerobic exercise for most of the 60 minutes. Most days can include either vigorous-intensity activities (such as running, swimming, and jumping rope) or moderate-intensity activities (such as walking or skateboarding), but at least three days a week it should include at least some vigorous-intensity exercise. Check out Let’s Move! for ideas on how to get active as a family.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities such as playing tug of war, exercising with resistance bands, or climbing on playground equipment. Strengthening exercises should be done at least three times a week. For safety guidelines on strength training for children and teens, check out this article from HPRC.
  • Bone-strengthening (impact) activities such running, jumping rope, basketball, tennis, and hopscotch. Impact activities strengthen bones and promote healthy growth and also should be done at least three times a week.

For more ideas on moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activities, check out the table in Chapter 3: Active Children and Adolescents of the Physical Activity Guidelines. For more ideas on getting fit as a family check out Let’s Move, a comprehensive initiative by the First Lady. For military-specific resources, check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.

Energy drinks and adolescents – a risky combination

Energy drinks and adolescents can be a dangerous combination, especially because of the amounts of caffeine and other stimulants that may be in these products. Educating youth about potential risks is very important.

Energy drinks have been in the news lately, mostly due to media reporting on a group (doctors, researchers, scientists, and politicians) writing to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to express concern over the use of these drinks by adolescents. Much of the concern has to do with the amounts of caffeine in these drinks, among other issues. Energy drinks also may contain large amounts of other stimulants, including guarana, yohimbe, yerba mate, kola nut, methylsynephrine, Citrus aurantium (Bitter Orange), and Ma Huang (ephedra). Although listing the total amount of caffeine on the label would help, consumers should be aware that there are often other stimulants in energy drinks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has written several articles over the last year about the potential risks associated with the adolescent population using energy drinks. One very recent article outlines the harmful effects of energy drinks on adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, and dehydration. The withdrawal effects after habitually consuming energy drinks is also an issue, as it can lead to headaches and attention problems. Also, the ingestion of energy drinks by adolescents who take prescription drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or who have eating disorders or diabetes is another topic of concern.

The amount of caffeine contained in energy drinks is not regulated, as the FDA does not regulate caffeine in foods or beverages, except that the maximum concentration for caffeine in cola beverages is 71 mg per 12 oz. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks ranges from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens drink no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day. To put that in perspective, an eight-ounce cup of coffee typically contains about 100 mg of caffeine (or more), and the most popular caffeine-containing sodas contain around 30 to 55 mg in a 12 oz. can. Not knowing how much caffeine and other stimulants are contained in energy drinks is a potential health threat.

Furthermore, the caffeine and other stimulants contained in the energy drinks, when combined with alcohol, can mask the symptoms of alcohol intoxication, potentially leading to risky behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents and doctors to talk to children about the dangers of mixing alcohol and energy drinks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on the potential risks.

Parents, educators, and healthcare professionals need to focus on educating adolescents about potential problems associated with consuming these high-stimulant products. Companies are heavily marketing their products by featuring athletic superstars, which causes children and adolescents to confuse energy drinks with sports drinks. Generally speaking, adolescents don’t need energy drinks, and they should be made aware of the potential dangers. It’s definitely a case of “buyer beware.”

Visit HPRC’s Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) to access resources on the informed use of dietary supplements.

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