Energy drinks, the caffeine-filled, carbonated beverage of choice for people seeking an energy boost, are big business. According to Red Bull’s website, around 5.387 billion cans of the drink were sold just last year. In 2012, a total of 12.5 billion USD was made in the energy drink industry. Estimates from the European Food Safety Authority indicate that 30 percent of adults and 18 percent of children under the age of 10 consume energy drinks. The most staggering estimate, however, is that 68 percent of adolescents drink the highly caffeinated beverages. So what’s the big deal? Well, energy drinks have been associated with several health issues for years, mostly involving heart palpitations, nausea, jitteriness and emergency room visits in young people. They have also even been linked with risky behavior. Now, researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) are calling for action.
WHO Details the Risks
Unsurprisingly, the WHO’s report indicates that much of energy drinks’ riskiness is due to high caffeine levels. While some types of coffees have similar amounts of caffeine, the WHO indicates that coffee may be safer because it’s usually consumed hot and therefore more slowly. Quickly consuming an energy drink can lead to a caffeine overdose, symptoms of which include:
- Heart palpitations
- Hypocalcemia (low calcium)
In adults, overconsumption of caffeine can also lead to Type 2 diabetes. A caffeine overdose can even cause death in rare instances. Specifically for adolescents, energy drinks can lead to tobacco use and binge drinking, which in turn cause a larger risk for depression and injuries.
Risks Even Worse When Energy Drinks Combined With Alcohol
The report states that 71 percent of those aged 18 to 29 who drink energy drinks also mix them with alcohol. Research also shows that consuming energy drinks could be a risk factor for alcohol dependence regardless of whether or not the drinks are actually mixed with alcohol. Mixing the two drinks together is dangerous largely because the effects of alcohol are felt without the typical drowsiness. This “wide-awake drunkenness” increases the risk of physical injuries and can lead to overconsumption of alcohol. In the U.S., college students that mixed energy drinks with alcohol were more likely to be taken advantage of sexually and get into a vehicle with an intoxicated driver.
Regulations Called For
The WHO is asking governments across the world to consider the risks and take action. Some of the regulations they want policy makers to consider include:
- Placing a limit on the amount of caffeine that can be contained in a single drink.
- Restricting sales to adolescents and children.
- Establishing regulatory oversight in the marketing of energy drinks to young people. Supposed effects such as increased performance and stamina are not scientifically proven.
Currently, most countries do not have any sort of regulations in place for energy drinks. However, they are banned in Turkey, Uruguay, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Sweden does not allow people under the age of 15 to purchase energy drinks, and Canada requires the drinks to display warning labels.
Energy Drink Regulations: The Bottom Line
There are still many that would argue energy drinks should not be regulated, especially when considering that some of them have about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. The reality, though, according to the WHO, is that energy drinks are much more dangerous due to the speed, volume, method and age at which they’re consumed. Not to mention, energy drinks often have tons of sugar and other questionable ingredients. To find out more about what’s really in your energy drink, check out this infographic.