Shocking truth about teens and energy drinks

Energy drink consumption has continued to increase in popularity since the 1997 debut of Red Bull, a leader in the energy drink market. Teen energy drink consumption has been linked to serious health issues, including obesity and a lack of sleep. Below are some current statistics.


  • The heart of the energy drink issue comes down to caffeine, and the lack of regulation of the caffeine in these drinks. The FDA regulates caffeine content in sodas (limit is 65 milligrams per 12 ounce can), but has yet refused to regulate caffeine content in energy drinks - some of which contain well over 200 milligrams . One cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine.

  • The companies that manufacture these products deny that they advertise to children. But because the market isn't regulated, there has been aggressive marketing of energy drinks, especially to young males with promises of psychoactive, performance-enhancing and stimulant drug effects.

  • In terms of the health effects of caffeine on children, there are very few studies on the subject matter - how do we ethically test kids on caffeine? However, serious adverse reactions to caffeine can occur in children because they, for the most part, weigh much less than adults. In medicine you often dose a drug based on the patient's weight. So when you give an equal amount of caffeine to a 12 year old and an average 35 year old, the effects of the drug will be that much greater in the child.

  • There is speculation and some anecdotal evidence that adolescents who are naive to caffeine may be at risk for caffeine overdose when they consume energy drinks, which again, typically contain a lot more caffeine that a cup of coffee or tea.

  • The impact of these drinks also depends on how they are consumed. People, especially young people, tend to abuse them, drinking more than one at a time, or mixing them with alcohol. If you consume energy drinks while sweating, the effects can be particularly dangerous because you can become severely dehydrated quickly.

  • Side effects that are important to keep in mind for children include: sleep disturbance, headaches that can lead to decreased concentration and overall function, dehydration (kids think that they are hydrating themselves, but caffeine is actually a diuretic), and anxiety.

  • Another study this year looked at the cardiovascular effects of energy drinks on young adults and found that while there were no EKG changes, there was an increase in systolic blood pressure, and heart rate increased 5-7 beats per minute.

  • And, something to consider as your teen gets closer to college age: a provocative 2008 study of 602 college students concluded that there was an association between consumption of excessive energy drinks and marijuana use, sexual risk-taking, fighting, seatbelt omission, and taking risks on a dare for the sample as a whole.

  • This study also associated excessive energy drink consumption with smoking, drinking, alcohol problems, and illicit prescription drug use for white students but not for black students. The researchers theorized that screening for excessive energy drinks could help identify college age students at risk for risky behavior. In other words, it may be considered a gateway substance for drug abuse.

  • Let's also address the benefits advertised by the makers of energy drinks. The manufacturer of one popular drink claims on its web site: "improves performance, increases concentration and reaction speed, increases endurance, stimulates metabolism." However, not only do energy drinks contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee, they also include a lot of sugar and a number of other chemicals. Aside from consuming energy drinks in moderation, there are other ways to achieve these benefits. Adequate sleep, for starters, also boosts performance and increases concentration, reaction speed and endurance. This leads us to another two key health issues for teens: lack of adequate sleep and childhood obesity.

  • Only 20 percent of teens get the recommended nine hours of sleep on school nights, and 25 percent report sleeping in class, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

  • A pilot study that looked at technology use and caffeine intake concluded that adolescents may be increasing their caffeine use (including energy drinks) to stay awake, resulting in increased daytime sleepiness.

  • Further, researchers at a Seattle health conference this year pointed out that too much caffeine, television and computer use, and not enough sleep, contributes to childhood obesity. And childhood obesity certainly has reached epidemic proportions. According to the CDC, obesity rates in children range from 12 percent to more than 17 percent, up from 5 to 6 percent back in 1976. What's more - obese children are more likely to become obese adults.

  • One study out of the University of Arizona in Tucson shows a decrease in sleep associated with increased television and computer viewing, video games, caffeine and higher body mass index (BMI). The link between caffeine, television, video games and other technology seems to be that they stimulate the brain.
  • Talk to your teens about the effects of caffeine and the contents of energy drinks. Encourage them to pay attention to their caffeine intake, and avoid caffeinated beverages after 6 p.m. You also might want to avoid or limit caffeinated drinks in the house.

  • Discuss and demonstrate eating a healthy, balanced diet, with less fast food and more fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.

  • Limit the hours of screen time, especially closer to bedtime when the brain should be winding down before sleeping. Think twice about having a TV in your teen's bedroom if they're having any sleep issues.

  • Teach your teens healthy sleep habits. It's recommended that teens get nine hours of sleep on school nights. Good time management skills can help kids get work completed and leave enough time for adequate rest.
>> About Energy Boosters
>> Caffeine and Your Child
>> Mayo Clinic (Enter a search for caffeine)

Dr. Steven Chang is a staff physician with Kosmix RightHealth. Dr. Chang practices Family Medicine at the University of California Davis Medical Center, where his medical interests include both pediatric and geriatric care, public health, gay and lesbian health, and sleep medicine. Dr. Chang trained at the Stanford University affiliated O'Connor Hospital, and was a research fellow at the National Institute of Health. He holds an M.D. from McGill University and a BA in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.

>> Get Dr. Chang's Daily Health Updates

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