The study, “Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents and Young Adults,” was published online February 14 in the journal Pediatrics. In a review of the current literature, the authors determined that energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit to children, and both the known and unknown properties of the ingredients, combined with reports of toxicity, may put some children at risk for adverse health events.
Youth account for half of the energy drink market, and according to surveys, 30 percent to 50 percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks. Typically, energy drinks contain high levels of stimulants such as caffeine, taurine and guarana, and safe consumption levels have not been established for most adolescents.
In the article, the authors advised that because energy drinks are frequently marketed to athletes and at-risk young adults, it is important for pediatric health care providers to screen for heavy use both alone and with alcohol, and to educate families and children at risk for energy drink overdose, which can result in seizures, stroke and even sudden death.
“Until further research establishes their safety, routine energy drinks usage by children and teen-agers should be discouraged,” said Steven E. Lipshultz, M.D., professor and chair of pediatrics, associate executive dean for child health, and senior author of the study. “We wanted to raise awareness about the risks. Our systematic review suggests that these drinks have no benefit and should not be a part of the diet of children and teens. We need long-term research to define maximum safe doses of these beverages and the effects of chronic use, especially in at-risk populations.”
Third-year Miller School medical student Sara M. Seifert was the lead author of the study, which will be published in the March issue of Pediatrics. Under the mentorship of Drs. Lipshultz, Judith Schaechter and Eugene Hershorin, associate professors of clinical pediatrics and associate chairs of the Department of Pediatrics, Seifert took on the project as a way to benefit the health of children.
“Numerous reports are appearing in the popular media and there are a handful of case reports in the scientific literature that associate energy drinks with serious adverse events,” said Seifert. “Additionally, many schools, states and countries have started regulating or banning energy drink content or sales to children, adolescents and young adults. In the face of such reports, it seemed prudent to investigate the validity of such claims.”