This lesson helps young people understand ingredients in energy drinks and sports drinks that may be unhealthful for children and teens. The youth will compare the caffeine levels of various drinks and create a warning label with some facts about their effects.
Before facilitating this lesson, you may want to review the following information. This can be shared with young people during your discussions.
Ads for sports drinks and energy drinks are hard to miss these days. It’s not uncommon to see children drinking these beverages that are formulated for fully grown, serious athletes who are doing intense training and competition. Unfortunately, many of these drinks are not good for children and can be harmful.
- Ask the youth what they know about sports drinks and energy drinks.
- Show one example of a sports drink and one example of an energy drink. Define “sports drink” and “energy drink” using the information below.
Sports drinks: These beverages have carbohydrates, minerals and electrolytes. Many of them also have added coloring and flavoring.
Sports drinks are meant to replace water and electrolytes lost during exercise. These beverages can be helpful to athletes who are doing intense activity. For children, they are usually just a source of extra calories that are not needed.
Energy drinks: These beverages may have similar ingredients as sports drinks. They also have stimulants such as caffeine and guarana.
Energy drinks often have much more caffeine per serving than other beverages. This increases the chances of having too much caffeine, which can have dangerous and sometimes lasting harmful effects.
- Ask the youth if they can name any other sports drinks or energy drinks. Explain that these drinks are often marketed towards young people but may contain ingredients that are unhealthful for children and teens.
- Caffeine in children can cause side effects such as:
- an increase in heart rate
- high blood pressure
- problems sleeping
- anxiety and nervousness.When children drink a lot of energy drinks and then stop drinking them, they can go through caffeine withdrawal. This can cause side effects such as:
- fatigue (tiredness)
- decreased alertness
- trouble concentrating
- muscle pain or stiffness.
- Most energy and sports drinks are also very acidic. This means that drinking these beverages could cause damage to tooth enamel.
- Optional: If appropriate for your group, distribute the handout Energy Drinks: What You Need To Know. Allow young people time to read about this topic before proceeding to the activities.
Activity: Caffeine Counts
- Organize the youth into teams of three or four. Ask each group to use the Caffeine Counts worksheet to identify and record the following information for several different sports drinks and energy drinks. Include some sodas, other beverages, and even other products for comparison.
- name of the product
- serving size
- amount of caffeine.
- Ask the youth to choose some of their favorite products or ones they have in their home or ones they have heard of from advertisements. They can use the Energy Drinks: What You Need To Know handout and/or the Caffeine Informer database to find information. You can also bring in labels or containers from home or, if you give them enough notice, ask them to do so.
- Talk about what the young people found. Were there surprises? Which products had the highest levels of caffeine? Based on what they’ve learned about how caffeine affects bodies, how safe do they think these products are?
Activity: Caffeine Warning Labels
- Explain that there are people who think that caffeine products should come with warning labels and are trying to get a law passed to require it. These would be similar to those found on cigarettes or alcohol.
- In the same or different small groups, have the young people create what they think would be a good warning label to put on caffeine-containing products. They don’t have to agree that having a label is necessary, but if a law were to be passed to that effect, ask them what they think the warnings should say.
- Ask them to share and describe their labels.
Remind young people that companies that market and sell packaged foods are very good at figuring out how to convince people to buy their products. This doesn’t mean that all packaged foods are bad, but it does mean that consumers should be cautious and pay attention to ingredients to make sure they know what they’re putting in their bodies.
Continuing the Conversation
Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish, so that families work together to spot unhealthful amounts of caffeine in the beverages of young people.
Additional Instructor Resources