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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Feb 9, 2018 - 10:14:40 PM

Energy Drinks and Adolescents

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist -
Feb 11, 2018 - 7:15:51 AM

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( - As the consumption of soda declines each year, the sale of energy drinks goes up, especially among young consumers. Kids as young as 10 know about energy drinks and perceive them as cool to drink with their friends, but few understand anything about their negative consequences.

In 2017, the global energy drink market topped $55 billion. These drinks are everywhere – at the grocery store, gas station, convenience stores, quick service restaurants, drugstore, bodegas, delis, vending machines, and for many in their home refrigerator. Nearly 30% of children report trying energy drinks by age 12 or younger, and currently there is no age limit on buying or consuming these drinks.

Energy drinks are not hydration beverages like sports drinks. In contrast, because of their high caffeine levels they are more likely to promote mild dehydration. They are flavored drinks, often high in sugar, that contain high amounts of caffeine and often other ingredients such as vitamins, taurine, herbal supplements, creatine, and guarana (a plant extract with high levels of caffeine).

It is believed that 30 to 50% of children, adolescents and young adults regularly use energy drinks. Many children believe that energy drinks are necessary to meet the demands of a busy life because they see their parents using them to alleviate the fatigue of work, traveling and family commitments. Adolescents, in particular, reported that they believe energy drinks are safe because they would not be sold if the caffeine levels were so high as to cause harm. They have limited knowledge about the ingredients in the drinks and if they could be problematic.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is another problem. Over half (53%) of young energy drink users report mixing the two. Energy shots can exacerbate this problem by allowing a maximum amount of alcohol and caffeine to be consumed in a smaller quantity of fluids. Many young adults believe that the level of caffeine in energy drinks can mask the symptoms of being drunk. By mixing a stimulant with a depressant the normal consequences of drinking too much alcohol, such as feeling sluggish, slow and lacking energy, are not evident. Consequently, there are more reports of people that drive after mixing alcohol and energy drinks than those who would drive if they simply drank too much and felt drunk. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported over 20,500 emergency department visits related to energy drinks in 2011, in contrast to 1,500 visits noted in 2005.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of energy drinks for children of all ages, but one has to wonder if pediatricians address this issue with parents at routine visits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute of Medicine recommend that all beverages available in schools be caffeine-free. Taste, price, promotion, ease of access, and peer influence are key factors for the use of energy drinks by adolescents and young adults. Teens say these drinks give them energy, help them study, improve their sports performance, makes them feel cool, helps them lose weight and they believe they can drink them and still drive safely. Little if any information is ever provided about the harmful effects. Marketers talk enthusiastically about perceived benefits but few are grounded in scientific facts.

Sean Nordt, MD, PharmD, is an international expert on emergency medicine and toxicology. His research found that 15% of teens mix alcohol in their energy drinks and 9% used energy drink plus illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. He also discovered that 40% of teens had an adverse effect from energy drinks. The most common side effects include:

  • Insomnia

  • Feeling jittery

  • Heart palpitations

  • GI distress

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Chest pain

  • Labored breathing

  • Seizures

The use of energy drinks by teens is a global issue seen in the US, Europe, the Middle East, South America, New Zealand and Australia. Boys are more likely than girls to abuse these beverages. The teens that drink the most are either physically active to improve performance or are involved in extensive screen-based activities such as playing video games.

Bottom line: Evidence is mounting that there are more negative health effects for children, teens and young adults from energy drinks than any perceived benefit. Maybe they need a warning label.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter – the most up-to-date information on managing diabetes

Calorie Counter – a weight loss guide that won’t let you down

Protein Counter – put the latest protein recommendations to work for you

Healthy Wholefoods Counter – planet-friendly eating made easy

Complete Food Counter – food counts and nutrition information at your fingertips

Fat and Cholesterol Counter – newest approach to heart-healthy eating

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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