Caffeine is not for kids, silly Spark | SierraSun.com

Caffeine is not for kids, silly Spark

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

The brains behind the energy drink, Spark, must be twisted. It’s the only explanation for the company’s shameless promotion and distribution to prepubescent athletes; all of whom ought to be steering clear of such rackets.

Made by AdvoCare International of Texas and released in 2001, Spark, according to a Sept. 25 article in the New York Times, contains a number of stimulants, including caffeine and taurine, the staple ingredient in Red Bull.

The drink comes in two formulas: KickStart Spark for children ages 4 to 11 and AdvoCare Spark for teenagers and adults. The younger users receive a 60-milligram dose of caffeine in one drink ” about 15 milligrams more than is in an 8-ounce cup of coffee or in a 12-ounce soda ” and the adults get 120 milligrams, according to the article.

Sidney Stohs, senior vice president for research and development at AdvoCare, told the New York Times that the product is “not just a caffeine delivery system; it has many more nutritional properties.”

Is the guy kidding, a caffeine delivery system? Kids need caffeine like fish need dry land. And about containing nutritional properties, that’s great, but so do things like, say, food.

So why does the company market an energy drink to kids as young as 4?

Recommended Stories For You

Rick Loy, senior vice president for field operations at AdvoCare, reasoned in the article that, besides being nutritious, Spark is a safe and effective way to improve energy and focus.

Energy, sure. But focus, come on buddy. That one is a bit tough to sell. I’m no pediatrician, but I’d be willing to bet that there’s a direct relationship between the level of energy and focus among children: The more energy, the less focus. At least, that’s the way it was when I was a kid ” a kid almost “held back” in kindergarten for being too “hyper.”

AdvoCare’s Web site claims the opposite, advertising through an elementary school wrestler that the product is performance-enhancing, both mentally and physically.

“I feel the products are helping me grow stronger, and my focus when I’m wrestling is better,” the child, or “high-performance athlete,” is quoted as saying. “I take them before and after games and practices, even if I’m playing football with my friends.”

OK, so in addition to providing a boost in energy and focus, Spark helps kids grow stronger. Sounds like that stuff banned by most professional sports. What’s it called? Steroids?

But this product is only ‘roid-like in its marketing, unless some recent discovery unveiled strength-building properties in caffeine.

And caffeine, while nearly as vital to some as the air they breath, is no health food. In fact, according to the New York Times article, pharmaceutical drugs with caffeine are required to have a warning reading, “Do not give to children under 12 years of age” and “limit the use of caffeine-containing medications, foods or beverages while taking this product because too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness and, occasionally, rapid heartbeat.”

The warning does not apply to dietary supplements, though, which federal law considers foods, not drugs.

Caffeine supplements are banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The International Olympic Committee also prohibited the substance from 1984 to 2004, but lifted the ban in consideration of coffee drinkers, the New York Times article reported.

I’m not alone in my criticism of a company marketing a performance-enhancing product to children. After receiving negative publicity earlier this year for sponsoring a high school wrestling tournament in Sacramento, AdvoCare officials said they would no longer sponsor school events, according to the New York Times.

Good. Now the next step is pulling Spark off the market. Unless, of course, I’m completely off-base, and 4-year-old athletes do need a “caffeine delivery system.”

Sylas Wright is the sports editor of the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at swright@sierrasun.com or (530) 550-2653.