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Caffeine Dependency Ravages the Student Body

The appeal of caffeinated beverages to young consumers is only growing, but should we be paying more attention to the root cause? Once school lets out, students of almost all ages rush to Starbucks for a brightly-colored beverage with only a distant relation to coffee. Every morning, Heschel students bring energy drinks or large coffees from Starbucks, Common Address, or the cafeteria to class. Caffeine’s role in enhancing energy and productivity levels is well established, but should its presence in learning environments be reevaluated?

On Sept. 10, 21-year-old Sarah Katz passed away after drinking a charged lemonade from Panera Bread. Katz was a student at the University of Pennsylvania who had a condition known as Long QT syndrome, which made her more susceptible to caffeine’s effects on her heart rate. While Katz’s circumstance is an extreme one, it is representative of the wider struggle with caffeine many young people have. Although Panera’s charged lemonade contains 390 mg of caffeine in the large size cup (adults are advised to never consume more than 400 mg of caffeine per day), it was advertised as a part of Panera’s “refreshers” beverage line, not as a caffeinated beverage.

Like others, Heschel senior Jayden Podchlebnik was initially drawn to the flavor of coffee as a sixth grader. Today, Podchlebnik relies on 600 mg of caffeine per day, describing what happened to them as an addiction. 

“I wake up and I’m exhausted. So I either drink a coffee or an energy drink in the morning, then I get tired again at around 11am. and have another coffee or energy drink,” Podchlebnik said. “Around 2pm, I’ll have another coffee or energy drink and, when I arrive home, I’ll have another.” 

Podchlebnik went on to suggest that students might turn to caffeine to manage the workload leveled upon them by the school.

The lack of education surrounding the negative impacts of caffeine is common among Heschel students, whose experiences with caffeinated beverages began by consuming them due to their aesthetic appeal, utility, or flavor. They couldn’t recognize their dependency on the substance growing until withdrawal became difficult. While these drinks may help students work actively in their classes, many can be seen stumbling around in tired hazes before they acquire their daily doses. That isn’t to mention the myriad long-term health effects of caffeine, which include anxiety, insomnia, and stunted growth in those under the age of 18.

While Heschel is unable to control students’ consumption of caffeine, a little bit of awareness regarding its effects goes a long way. Short programs, similar to Heschel’s Prevention Solutions programming, could publicize the risks posed by caffeine and invite more discussion of the topic.

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