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Addicted to Awake: The Consequences of Energy Drinks in Adolescents

energy drinks

How often do you come across advertisements for energy drinks: once or twice a week, or perhaps every day on your morning commute? Rarely do we escape a day without energy drink companies promoting how they can “give you wings” or provide the five hours of energy you need to make it through the afternoon grind. As a parent, you may see past the misleading marketing, but can we say the same about the effect these ads have on our children and adolescents, especially when advertisements specifically target this population?

Energy Drink Consumption on the Rise

Consumption of caffeinated energy drinks has skyrocketed since the late 1980s when these drinks were first introduced. In fact, in 2013 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimated that the energy drink market brings in greater than $5 billion annually, with more than 200 new brands introduced in the U.S. alone in 2006.

Energy drinks are advertised to children as a way to boost energy, decrease fatigue and enhance concentration for those that consume their product. Many teens say they consume energy drinks for a variety of reasons, including staying up late to work on a school assignment, wanting to perform better in sports and most disturbingly, mixing with alcohol while partying.

High Amounts of Caffeine

Caffeine is the most common stimulant found in energy drinks. What’s not advertised to kids is that the effects of caffeine on sleep can undermine their goal to feel more energetic. Caffeine lengthens the time it takes to fall asleep, worsens sleep quality and reduces sleep duration. In addition, energy drinks can impair brain development, increase anxiety and depression, increase blood pressure and worsen heart health over time.

Companies are able to avoid the same regulations that affect dietary supplements and sodas by calling energy drinks “conventional foods.” Because of this, the amount of caffeine can vary between brands. To put it in perspective, a typical 12 oz. soda can contain no more than 65 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. The caffeine in energy drinks ranges anywhere from 100 to 350 mg. Two common ingredients in energy drinks, guarana (also called Brazilian cocoa) and yerba mate, also have caffeine-like effects, but aren’t necessarily taken into account when listing caffeine content.

Difference Between Energy Drinks and Sports Drinks

Many teens consume both energy drinks and sports drinks, but there is a significant difference between the two beverages. Sports drinks are intended to rehydrate and replenish essential minerals lost through intense exercise. While both types of drinks contain many of the same components (water, carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and minerals), energy drinks distinguish themselves by including nonnutritive stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana and taurine.

The Verdict on Energy Drinks

Children should avoid consuming energy drinks. The AAP Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness have stated that after extensive review “caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents.”

Research shows one-third of teens use energy drinks regularly. When teenagers are told about the dangers of consuming energy drinks, they often say they “didn’t know it was an issue” or “it isn’t affecting me yet.” Education is key. Parents can set an example and not buy or drink the products. During daily conversations, ask your teens whether they are drinking energy drinks and anything else with caffeine, and find out why they choose these drinks. Highlight the known potential health risks associated with caffeine consumption and explain the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks.

Learn more about what foods and drinks have caffeine.