Energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster Energy have levels of caffeine that may be harmful to children who consume them often, a study showed.
Some of the ingredients in the drinks are understudied and not regulated, according to a review of previous research and surveys in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics. Children with diabetes, mood disorders and heart, kidney or liver diseases may have reactions including heart palpitations, seizures, cardiac arrest or even death, the authors said.
Nearly one-third of kids 12 to 14 years old regularly consume these beverages, which contain caffeine, sugar and other additives, said study author Judith Schaechter, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami. Of the 5,448 U.S. caffeine overdoses reported in 2007, 46 percent occurred in those younger than 19, Schaechter and her co-authors said.
“Pediatricians need to be aware of the possible effects of energy drinks,” said Steven Lipshultz, a professor and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami School of Medicines and a study author, in a Feb. 11 e-mail. “Toxicity surveillance should be improved and regulations of energy-drink sales and consumption should be based on appropriate research assessing energy drink safety.”
Sales of energy drinks were $6.9 billion in 2009 compared with $6.5 billion in 2008, according to John Sicher, publisher and editor of Beverage Digest. Sales for 2010 aren’t yet available and are expected to be even higher, he said.
‘Safe to Consume’
“Red Bull Energy Drink is available in over 160 countries because health authorities across the world have concluded that Red Bull Energy Drink is safe to consume,” said Patrice Radden, a spokeswoman in Santa Monica, California, for closely held Red Bull GmbH based in Fuschl am See, Austria. “Last year alone, over 4 billion cans and bottles were consumed across the world.”
Energy drinks and their ingredients are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she said in an e-mail.
A telephone call to Hansen Natural Corp. in Corona, California, which makes Monster Energy, was answered by a person who declined to be identified and said she couldn’t comment on the study.
Some energy drinks contain ingredients, such as cocoa and guarana, that may add caffeine beyond what’s labeled on the drinks, wrote the authors of today’s study. Each gram of guarana contains 40 milligrams to 80 milligrams of caffeine, they said.
Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy for the Washington-based American Beverage Association, said today’s review perpetuates misinformation about energy drinks.
“When it comes to caffeine, it’s important to put the facts in perspective,” she said in an e-mail. “Most mainstream energy drinks actually contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee. In fact, young adults getting coffee from popular coffeehouses are getting about twice as much caffeine as they would from a similar size energy drink.”
An 8.5-ounce can, or 250 milliliters, of energy drink may contain from 50 milligrams to 160 milligrams of caffeine, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation.
An 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine, the Washington-based group said, while a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks “Bold Pick of the Day” coffee contains 330 milligrams of caffeine, according to the company website. Eight ounces of Coca-Cola Co.’s Coke soft drink contains 23 milligrams of caffeine, according to the company Web site.
The researchers, led by University of Miami medical student Sara Seifert, looked at scientific literature and reports by government agencies and interest groups on energy drink use in children and adolescents. They found that U.S. teens consume an average of about 60 milligrams to 70 milligrams of caffeine each day and some drink as much as 800 milligrams a day. Most of the caffeine comes from soda, although energy drinks are “becoming increasingly popular,” they said.
Caffeine, which can improve attention, also increases blood pressure and causes sleep disturbances in children, the authors wrote. It is unclear how caffeine and other additives in energy drinks may interact with antidepressants and medicines that kids take for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they said.
A 2007 study presented at the American Heart Association meeting found that energy drinks can raise blood pressure and heart rate and probably shouldn’t be used by those with heart disease. Healthy young adults saw their blood pressure rise 5 to 10 points and heart rate levels increase 5 to 7 beats per minute after consuming energy drinks, the study by researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found.
Late last year, the American Association of Poison Control Centers began tracking energy drinks as a separate category of caffeinated products, said spokeswoman Jessica Wehrman. So far this year, U.S. poison control centers have received 331 calls about energy drinks, with rapid heartbeat the most common complaint. About one-quarter pertained to children ages 5 and younger and another quarter involved those ages 13 to 19, according to the data from the centers.