Why We Need to Rethink Our Energy Drink Habit

Many students and busy working adults alike may have come to rely on energy drinks to get them through the day, but the World Health Organization this week issued a warning that these drinks can pose a significant risk to public health and that there may be need for tighter regulations.

Created by†Dr Jo„o Breda and team at the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe, the review and resulting paper evaluates broad market data on energy drink consumption and the surrounding health concerns raised by experts. While the report notes that there are still relatively few studies on the health impact of energy drinks — simply because studies take time and energy drinks of this kind are a relatively new phenomenon –†the data that we do have suggests that there is a significant risk to public health if energy drinks continue to be sold and consumed as they currently are.

The report concludes that the health concerns surrounding energy drinks are “broadly valid” and that there is indeed a risk that these highly caffeinated†drinks could cause negative health effects or what’s known as caffeine intoxication:†high blood pressure, heart palpitations, vomiting, psychosis and in some documented cases, even death.

The WHO report specifically identifies a couple of major problems.†One is the practice of mixing energy drinks with alcohol, with the research finding that about 70 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds who regularly consume energy drinks say they mix their drinks.†This is dangerous for a number of reasons. For one, the jolt of caffeine reduces the drowsiness associated with getting drunk but it doesn’t lower the alcohol’s effects in other regards. That means that people may feel they can drink more and over a longer period of time, when in fact they are well past their limit and possibly dangerously close to being very unwell. Another is that, as inhibitions are lowered due to consuming alcohol, people may not realize just how many energy drinks, and therefore how much caffeine, they have consumed. As above, caffeine intoxication is a serious threat especially when people aren’t mindful of their rate of consumption.

The second key issue the report identifies is that energy drinks are attractive to young kids. In fact, WHO estimates that about 43 percent of all caffeine exposure among children is now coming from these drinks, and that’s not surprising: a†single can of energy drink might contain as much as 500 mg of caffeine, which would be the same as drinking five cups of regular blend coffee.

The drinks’ appeal to children is something that energy drink manufacturers appear to be doing very little to discourage, too. Many energy drinks sport brightly colored cans that make them look very similar to sodas and other drinks aimed at children, and the report goes so far as to say that these drinks are being “aggressively” marketed so as to appeal to young adolescents.†And yet there is very little regulation and in much of Europe, Sweden being one major exception, there is no standard guideline or age restriction on who can buy energy drinks.

As such, the report calls for a cap on the amount of caffeine that can be in any single serving of energy drink and regulations that will restrict the sale of energy drinks and prevent them being sold, in particular, to young children.

Currently, the United States does not apply strict regulation to the energy drinks market and, depending on several factors, some energy drinks are allowed to go on sale without having to disclose how much caffeine is in them. That’s something the experts behind the WHO report would also like to change.

The researchers also want physicians and health departments throughout Europe to engage with the issue of energy drinks to ensure that the public knows the possible dangers they pose and so can consume energy drinks responsibly.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

55 comments

Sharon Stein
Sharon Stein3 years ago

I don't drink ANY commercial drinks anymore...just a personal lifestyle change...

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Rosemary Diehl
Rosemary Diehl3 years ago

I have never understood Red Bull but then I drink a ton a Diet Dr Pepper...not with alcohol though

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Aba Comms
Aba Comms3 years ago

Importantly, the views expressed in the paper cited here belong to the author, and are not representative of official WHO positions. This analysis also blatantly overlooks serious scientific research that contradicts the author’s thesis, therefore calling the paper’s credibility into question.



Now, let’s get some facts straight with respect to energy drinks. Contrary to many media claims, most mainstream energy drink varieties have about half the caffeine of a comparable size coffeehouse coffee. In the U.S., these beverages are FDA-regulated, and have been safely consumed for about fifteen years in this country, and for nearly three decades around the globe. That said, U.S. energy drink makers take several voluntary steps to safeguard consumers, including printing an advisory statement on product packaging that says this product is not intended (or recommended) for children, pregnant or nursing women, and persons sensitive to caffeine. In other words, U.S. energy drink makers go above and beyond to ensure these beverages are marketed responsibly to the audiences for whom they are intended.
-American Beverage Association

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Dave C.
David C3 years ago

I have never had one, but I know several young people known to drink 2 or 3 per day......

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John B.
John B3 years ago

Thanks Steve for providing the information. I have never tried an energy drink and don't think I ever will, as I've never felt the need for one.

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Miya Eniji
Miya Eniji3 years ago

Ya, MLE, [some vile fake sweetener] , indeed -last week someone offered this kind of drink to me at local Amway distribution centre. Drink smelled ok, fruity, but i only had 1 sip- HORRID ! Guess what, it contains both Acesulfame K ( K is potassium) AND sucralose- yukola ! Both taste so disgusting =.=
This crap is marketed at morons who think that just reducing caloric intake leads to weight loss, so choose [sugar-free] or [calorie-off], as it's marketed in Japan ( sigh).

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Donnaa D.
donnaa D3 years ago

TY

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Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton3 years ago

Thanks for the info.

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Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

Agreed

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Muff-Anne York-Haley

The most scary thing is that children have pretty easy access to these drinks!

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