Energy drinks, the buzzy beverages with names like Monster, Bawls, Red Bull and RockStar, continue to bedevil the medical community, who warn that their sugar and caffeine content make them unsuitable for children who are teased by the hip handles.
The companies, conversely, fire back that their drinks are safe and contain no more caffeine than the cups of coffee millions consume every day at Starbucks.
Energy drinks are beverages that often contain caffeine, taurine, herbal supplements, sugar, and guarana. These drinks, sold in supermarkets, convenience stores and shops that sell vitamins and supplements, are marketed to improve energy, promote weight loss, and boost stamina, athletic performance and concentration.
Red Bull, the granddaddy of the bunch, exploded onto the market in the late 1990s and contains about 66.7 mg of caffeine per 8.3-ounce can, less than the 107.5 mg in a typical cup of coffee.
Most list caffeine, the main active ingredient in energy drinks, at 70 to 80 mg per eight-ounce serving. But caffeine counts of 350 mg have been registered in some products — the equivalent of 10 cans of caffeinated soda.
The Food and Drug Administration imposes a limit of 71 mg of caffeine per 12 fluid ounces of soda but energy drink manufacturers can circumvent this limit by touting their products as “natural dietary supplements.”
In addition, energy drinks often add caffeine through “energy blend” additives like guarana, glucose, kola nut, yerba mate, L-carnitine and cocoa. Monster’s “energy blend” mix in a single eight-ounce can is 2,500 mg, not counting the 27 grams of sugar. (The recommended intake of sugar is 40 grams — for the entire day.)
A gram of guarana can contain 40 to 80 mg of caffeine but companies are not required to list the caffeine content from these additives. So, the caffeine count can be much higher than the can’s nutritional label, according to a 2012 University of Miami study of energy drinks and their health effects on children, adolescents and young adults, published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The authors were lead author Sara Seifert and doctors Judith Schaechter, Eugene Hershorin and Steven Lipshultz, who traveled to Washington earlier this month to address a panel convened by the Food and Drug Administration and the Institute of Medicine to review the health consequences of energy drinks for children.
“If you had to predict what ages we saw the most poisonings, you would probably say high school or college-age kids, young adults. But over 50 percent of all the people who felt they were getting poisoned by drinking energy drinks or unintentional exposures, were less than 6 years of age,” said Lipshultz, professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Unintentional” meaning the youngest children stumbled upon the sweet, attractively packaged beverages in the home refrigerator, Lipshultz said.
The UM study, which relied on self-report surveys, found that energy drinks are consumed by 30 to 50 percent of adolescents and young adults. Of the 5,448 caffeine overdoses reported by 57 poison control centers in the United States in 2007, about 50 percent of those occurred in children younger than 19.
Children — especially those with cardiovascular, renal or liver disease, seizures, diabetes, mood and behavioral disorders, along with hyperthyroidism or those who take certain medications for attention deficit disorder — could be at higher risk for adverse effects from consuming energy drinks, the UM study reported.