Food and Behaviour Research

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25 March 2015 - MedicalXpress - Children and energy drinks comprise a growing public health crisis

Daniel P. Jones

Emerging evidence shows that highly-caffeinated, often sugar-laden energy drinks can harm children and adolescents, and supports physicians' groups and policymakers calling for restrictions on marketing and sales of these drinks to children under 18, according to a new study.

This study examined the existing research on sales and marketing of energy drinks, their consumption by youth under 18, and growing evidence that they can be harmful and may lead to negative health, social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes, especially when consumed by youth.

"Energy drink consumption has increased rapidly over the past five years, despite increasing evidence of negative immediate and long-term health effects, especially when consumed by youth under 18," says Jennifer Harris, a study author, associate professor-in-residence at UConn, and director of marketing initiatives for the Rudd Center. "Companies say these products are safe to market and sell to children as young as 12, but the evidence says otherwise."

According to the study, there is considerable evidence that energy drinks present a public health threat:

  • The number of hospital emergency room visits by 12- to 17-year-olds attributable to energy drink consumption increased from 1,145 in 2007 to 1,499 in 2011. Deaths also have been reported.
  • Calls to poison centers related to energy drinks increased from 672 in 2010 to 3,028 in 2013, with 61 percent of the calls concerning children 18 and younger. The reported effects included seizures, delirium, faster than normal heart rate, and irregular heart rhythm – all consistent with caffeine toxicity.
  • Energy drink consumption by youth is also associated with sleep disturbances, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and other dangerous behaviors, such as substance abuse, violence, and sexual risk-taking.