A team of researchers from the World Health Organization has revealed that consumption of energy drink is a serious public health risk to young people. The risk associated with these energy drinks is in part due to their high levels of caffeine intoxication. In Europe, a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) study found that the estimated contribution of energy drinks to total caffeine exposure was 43% in children, 13% in teenagers and 8% in adults.
Energy drinks are marketed as increasing stamina and contain caffeine, vitamins and other ingredients such as taurine, ginseng, and guarana.
The researchers conducted a literature review of available studies. “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,” said João Breda, from the WHO Regional Office for Europe.
The review specified 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.
Of concern is that adolescents who often take energy drinks are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors 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.
Information obtained from the National Poison Data System in the United States, between 2010 and 2011, revealed that 4854 calls to poison information centers were made about energy drinks. Almost 40% involved alcohol mixed with energy drinks.
The researchers suggest a number of policy recommendations as energy drink sales are rarely regulated by age, unlike alcohol and tobacco, and there is a proven potential negative effect on children.
The recommendations include:
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.
João Joaquim Breda, Stephen Hugh Whiting, Ricardo Encarnação, Stina Norberg, Rebecca Jones, Marge Reinap, Jo Jewell. Energy Drink Consumption in Europe: A Review of the Risks, Adverse Health Effects, and Policy Options to Respond. Frontiers in Public Health, 2014; 2 DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2014.00134