Rock Star. Full Throttle. No Fear. Adrenaline Rush. Go Girl. Monster.

Just the names of energy drinks makes me think of snowboarding at full speed down a mountain full of admiring fans while rock music is blasting and I do a triple backflip and then someone tosses me a can… of Screaming Energy. Thanks to this extremely caffeinated sugar water with extra Vitamin B and a hefty dose of some amino acid, I’m going to go back up that hill and do it all over again.

Who can resist that image? Energy drinks are common fare for teens. Containing a hefty dose of caffeine and sugar, energy drinks help sleep-deprived teens remain alert during the day, whether they’re on the slopes or just trying to stay awake in history class on 6 hours of sleep.

 However, reports have recently shown that energy drinks can be dangerous for teens, more so than other caffeine-containing beverages like coffee or soda. Why?

  • To begin with, energy drinks are categorized as a “nutritional supplement,” which means they don’t have to follow the caffeine restrictions for soda. 12 ounces of energy drink can contain the caffeine of 3-4 cups of coffee. There is often additional “unofficial” caffeine from ingredients like yerba mate or guarana. Keep in mind that the generally recommended daily caffeine intake limit for teens is 100 mg.
  • Many of the “all-natural”, “herbal” ingredients in energy drinks have been poorly studied, especially in children and teens. Do you know how vinpocetine and yohimbine affect the body? Neither do I.  
  • Add alcohol to the mix, and you get a more complicated scenario. A 2008 study of various universities in North Carolina found that 25% of university students had mixed alcohol and energy drinks in the last 30 days. The problem is, the caffeine and other ingredients in energy drinks act to mask that “drunk feeling.” The caffeine improves their feeling of alertness- but not their judgment, driving, or other functions that alcohol can impair.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you that teens should perhaps beware of energy drinks, let’s look at the sugar:

  • Americans, in general, need to eat less sugar- and that includes young people. Energy drinks tend to market themselves as healthy, but they can be loaded with sugar.
  • The overall winner for sugar content is a 22-ounce Rockstar Punched Guava, which has 102 grams of sugar- more than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, more than three Snickers bars, more than 25 sugar packets.
  • Sugar-free drinks are available, but often contain artificial sweeteners. Are artificial sweeteners safe for adolescents? (That isn’t rhetorical; there’s a lot of conflicting information!)

Keep in mind that teens are not renowned label readers. I once talked to a group of adolescents about energy drinks, and they didn’t even know that they contained caffeine. They figured the “all natural” additives led to an “all natural” burst of energy.

What do you think is the best way to discourage energy drink consumption in adolescents? Do you think it’s okay for them to drink them sometimes? Do you like to drink energy drinks? If so, what do you like about them?