FoodFacts.com knows there are so many things for parents to worry about when it comes to their teenagers. While we’re not happy to have added to their list of concerns, we’ve been consistently reporting on research and news surrounding energy drinks. These drinks have been linked to thousands of emergency room visits and fatalities among adults and young people alike. Unfortunately, energy drinks appear to be most appealing to teenagers and they’re consuming them in unhealthy quantities all over the world. Today we’ve learned that these dangers are being recognized.
Increased consumption of energy drinks may pose danger to public health, especially among young people, warns a team of researchers from the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe in the open-access journal Frontiers in Public Health.
Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine, vitamins, and other ingredients for example, taurine, ginseng, and guarana. They are typically marketed as boosting energy and increasing physical and mental performance.
João Breda, from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, and colleagues reviewed the literature on the health risks, consequences and policies related to energy drink consumption.
“From a review of the literature, it would appear that concerns in the scientific community and among the public regarding the potential adverse health effects of the increased consumption of energy drinks are broadly valid,” write the authors.
Part of the risks of energy drinks are due to their high levels of caffeine. Energy drinks can be drunk quickly, unlike hot coffee, and as a result they are more likely to cause caffeine intoxication.
Studies included in the review suggest that caffeine intoxication can lead to heart palpitations, hypertension, nausea and vomiting, convulsions, psychosis, and in rare cases, death. In the USA, Sweden, and Australia, several cases have been reported where people have died of heart failure or were hospitalized with seizures, from excess consumption of energy drinks.
Research has shown that adolescents who often take energy drinks are also more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as sensation seeking, substance abuse, and binge drinking.
Over 70% of young adults (aged 18 to 29 years) who drink energy drinks mix them with alcohol, according to an EFSA study. Numerous studies have shown that this practice is more risky than drinking alcohol only, possibly because these drinks make it harder for people to notice when they are getting drunk.
According to the National Poison Data System in the United States, between 2010 and 2011, 4854 calls to poison information centers were made about energy drinks. Almost 40% involved alcohol mixed with energy drinks. A similar study in Australia demonstrated a growth in the number of calls about energy drinks.
Energy drinks can be sold in all EU countries, but some countries have introduced regulations, including setting rules for sales to children. Hungary introduced a public health tax that includes energy drinks in 2012. In Sweden, sales of some types of energy drinks are restricted to pharmacies and sales to children are banned.
“As energy drink sales are rarely regulated by age, unlike alcohol and tobacco, and there is a proven potential negative effect on children, there is the potential for a significant public health problem in the future,” the authors conclude.
They make the following suggestions to minimize the potential for harm from energy drinks:
- Establishing an upper limit for the amount of caffeine allowed in a single serving of any drink in line with available scientific evidence;
- Regulations to enforce restriction of labeling and sales of energy drinks to children and adolescents;
- Enforcing standards for responsible marketing to young people by the energy drink industry;
- Training health care practitioners to be aware of the risks and symptoms of energy drinks consumption;
- Patients with a history of diet problems and substance abuse, both alone and combined with alcohol, should be screened for the heavy consumption of energy drinks;
- Educating the public about the risks of mixing alcohol with energy drinks consumption;
- Further research on the potential adverse effects of energy drinks, particularly on young people.
We’re grateful for many of the statements released from this report. First among them would have to be the acknowledgement that health concerns surrounding energy drinks are valid. Unfortunately, here in the U.S., there’s been little — if any — movement by the FDA to restrict and reclassify energy drinks from nutritional supplements to beverages, or to regulate their sale among young people. Every instance of a link between death and energy drinks is accompanied by a disclaimer that no cause and effect had been found. And the consistent marketing of energy drinks by manufacturers in manners that are attractive to teens has not changed. Even the packaging designs employed are obviously targeting a younger population. FoodFacts.com hopes that this European report sends a loud message across the globe and is thoroughly digested here in the states. These are significant acknowledgements that need to be taken seriously.