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Jittery Drinks

Caffeinated soda and energy drinks might give you an energy boost, but they could also cause your grades to plunge

Commercials on TV make soda and energy drinks look appealing. They show people guzzling the beverages while playing extreme sports and hanging out with friends. But what these ads don’t tell you is that too much caffeine, the chemical stimulant drug added to these beverages to give you that lift, could be harmful to your health—and your grades. 

Researchers recently found that middle school students who consumed even one energy drink per day were 66 percent more likely to show signs of hyperactivity. Symptoms of hyperactivity include a lack of focus, increased anxiety and heart rate, and disrupted sleep. This could be a big problem, because a 2014 study found that 73 percent of American kids consume caffeine daily.

CAFFEINE COMPLICATIONS

Jeannette Ickovics is a professor of public health at Yale University in Connecticut. She led the study examining the relationship between caffeine and hyperactivity in middle school students. She says her findings provide strong evidence that caffeine’s side effects can cause symptoms that make it difficult for students to pay attention and do well in school. 

To find out if there is a connection between hyperactivity and caffeine consumption, Ickovics interviewed more than 1,600 middle school students. She asked how many and which types of caffeinated drinks each student had drunk within the past 24 hours.

Then Ickovics asked each student a list of questions that could help diagnose hyperactivity: 1) Do you feel restless and have trouble staying still for long? 2) Are you constantly fidgeting or squirming? 3) Are you easily distracted and do you find it difficult to concentrate? 4) Do you finish the work you are doing and is your attention good? and 5) Do you think before you do things? Students ranked each of these questions as either “not true,” “somewhat true,” or “certainly true.”

“As the number of drinks went up, so did the number and severity of symptoms,” says Ickovics. She found that even one additional drink per day could heighten the level of hyperactivity in the students by an average of 14 percent.

Other findings from the study show that boys are more likely to drink caffeinated drinks. Ickovics suspects that this is because companies market the drinks with ads that are targeted at boys.

SWEET SYMPTOMS

The dangers of caffeine-rich beverages go beyond hyperactivity. Each drink can also contain up to 40 grams of sugar. That’s the equivalent of 10 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends that children limit themselves to 21 to 33 grams of sugar each day. 

Eating too much sugar can lead to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and digestive illnesses. “So if you have one soda, you’re already exceeding that daily recommendation,” says Ickovics. “Caffeine and sugar are like peanut butter and jelly—they’re almost always together.”

CORE QUESTION:  What are ways to boost your energy without consuming caffeine?  

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