Food and Behaviour Research

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18 January 2017 - Nutraingredients - Energy drink consumption associated with mental health problems for teens

Gary Scattergood

Teenagers who regularly consume energy drinks are at “great risk” of mental health problems, particularly when consumed in combination with junk food, researchers claim.

 A new study indicates that Korean teenagers who regularly consume energy drinks are at “great risk” of mental health problems, particularly when consumed in combination with junk food, researchers claim.

Their findings suggest that energy drink intake has detrimental effects related to stress, sleep dissatisfaction, mood, and suicidality, in isolation or in combination with junk food consumption.

Writing in Nutrition Journal, researchers stated the risk of mental health problems was significantly different between highly frequent and moderately frequent consumers.

“Therefore, the amount of energy drink intake should be carefully monitored, and an educational intervention on the negative effects of energy drinks is needed for adolescents who consume energy drinks regularly,” they wrote.

They pointed out that a considerable amount of research suggests that the frequent use of caffeinated energy drinks may be associated with undesirable effects, particularly so in children and adolescents.

Dietary behaviour

“This study aimed to investigate the associations between energy drink intake and mental health problems, in isolation or in combination with junk food consumption, in a nationally representative sample of Korean adolescents,” they added.

Data from the 2015 Korean Youth Risk Behavior Web-Based Survey, collected from 68,043 adolescents aged 12–18 years, was analysed and questionnaires were administered to collect information related to dietary behavior including energy drink intake and junk food consumption.

Single item measures of sleep dissatisfaction, stress, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide plan, and suicide attempt were assessed.

Associations between energy drink intake and sleep dissatisfaction, perceived severe stress, persistent depressive mood, and suicidality were also investigated, and a multivariate approach was taken so that additional variance from demographic and lifestyle factors could be controlled for statistically.

“Energy drink intake was significantly associated with sleep dissatisfaction (adjusted odd ratios [AORs] = 1.64 and 1.25), severe stress (AORs = 2.23 and 1.38), depressive mood (AOR = 2.59 and 1.51), suicidal ideation (AORs = 3.14 and 1.43), suicide plan (AORs = 4.65 and 1.78), and suicide attempt (AORs = 6.79 and 1.91),” they wrote.

“[There was] a higher risk for more frequent use of energy drinks (≥5 times/wk) than for less frequent use (1–4 times/wk). The detrimental effect of energy drinks on mental health was particularly prominent in frequent junk food consumers.”

Overburdened teens

The paper states that energy drinks did not become widely available in South Korea until 2010 before quickly becoming popular with teenagers, especially those who feel “overburdened with studying and examinations”.

“Consumption rates are increasing because of its concentration enhancement and awakening and fatigue-relieving effects. Students in South Korea study longer hours and sleep shorter hours than students in other Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) countries. In 2009, Korean students studied an average of 7hr 50min per day, compared to 5hr 21min in Japan, 5hr 0min in the US, 3hr 49min in England, and 6hr 6min in Finland, and slept an average of 7 h 30 min,” they added.

The authors acknowledged several limitations in the study, with its cross-sectional design preventing their ability to assess causal relationships.

“However, the strength of the present study is its inclusion of data from 68,043 adolescents from a nationally representative sample in South Korea, which improves the external validity of the study results."

They concluded: "Our data suggest that energy drink intake had detrimental effects related to stress, sleep dissatisfaction, mood, and suicidality, in isolation or in combination with junk food consumption, in Korean adolescents."