Energy drink cans 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Although the Health Ministry knows of the significant dangers of energy drinks to teens and children and has posted warnings on its website, it still has not decided to prohibit their sale to minors.
A study on the risks of energy drinks, especially for children, has just be published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
Nutrition Prof. Josiemer Mattei, who published this study along with a team of graduate researchers, said that “to curb this growing public health danger, policy-makers should regulate sales and marketing towards children and adolescents and set upper limits on caffeine.”
The review of current scientific knowledge on energy drinks finds that their advertised short-term benefits can be outweighed by serious health risks. These include risk-seeking behavior, mental health problems, increased blood pressure, obesity and kidney damage. The study highlights the worrying trend of mixing energy drinks with alcohol. Those who do this consume more alcohol than if they were drinking alcohol alone. It is thought that energy drinks can mask the signs of alcohol inebriation, enabling an individual to consume more and increasing the likelihood of dehydration and alcohol poisoning, especially in minors.
As consumption of energy drinks continues to grow worldwide, including in Israel, there is “a need to thoroughly examine their advertised benefits, nutritional content and any negative effects on public health,” the researchers said. “We summarize the consequences of energy drink consumption, which include heart, kidney, and dental problems, as well as risk-seeking behavior and poor mental health.”
Most energy drinks consist of similar ingredients – water, sugar, caffeine, certain vitamins, minerals and non-nutritive stimulants such as guarana, taurine and ginseng. Some can contain up to 100 mg. of caffeine per fluid ounce, more than eight times as much as a cup of coffee at 12 mg. A moderate daily caffeine intake of up to 400 mg is recommended for adults, but little research exists on tolerable levels for adolescents and children.
“The energy drink industry has grown dramatically in the past 20 years, culminating in a nearly $10 billion per year industry in the US alone,” said Mattei. “They are often marketed as a healthy beverage that people can adopt to improve their energy, stamina, athletic performance and concentration, but our review shows there are important health consequences, and little is known about many of their non-nutritive stimulants such as guarana and taurine.”
The health risks associated with energy drinks are mostly attributed to their high sugar and caffeine levels. They range from risk-seeking behavior, such as substance misuse and aggression, to mental health problems in the form of anxiety and stress, increased blood pressure, obesity, kidney damage, fatigue, stomachaches and irritation.
Although there is not enough research on energy drinks and their effect on youngsters who are not healthy, “we conclude that there is currently enough evidence to suggest that the negative health consequences of drinking energy drinks outweigh any potential shortterm benefits,” Mattei concluded.
The ministry website notes that the first energy drinks were produced and marketed in 1987; since then their use, including by youngsters, has skyrocketed thanks in part to dropping prices. But the beverages – promoted as being healthful – have many negative side effects including anxiety, tension, headaches, sleeplessness, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, diarrhea, loss of appetite, tremors and addiction to caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and marijuana.
According to the website, the ministry has required the listing of caffeine levels of over 150 mg. per liter, with a recommendation that pregnant women and children up to the age of 12 not consume energy drinks at all. The website said that the ministry is working with the Education Ministry to explain the risks in schools and may survey youngsters in the Jewish and Arab sector regarding their consumption.
But it has yet to do anything to prohibit their sale to minors, as it has regarding alcoholic beverages.