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New research shows energy drinks pose numerous health risks to children and adolescents, including thoughts of suicide, anxiety, and depression, prompting researchers to issue warnings about their unrestricted consumption by kids.

In a first-of-its-kind review in the Public Health journal, UK researchers examined 57 studies on the effects of energy drinks in more than 1.2 million children and adolescents from 21 countries under the age of 21.

The data showed a strong association between energy drink consumption and health problems such as increased suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, depressive and panic behaviors, allergic diseases, insulin resistance, and dental issues.

Energy drinks were also associated with increased behaviors such as violence, smoking, substance abuse, sensation-seeking and delinquent behaviors, poor sleep, and low academic performance.

Regarding the effects of energy drinks on mental health, researchers found that frequent consumption of energy drinks was associated with “suicide attempts and severe stress,” with “higher rates of suicide ideation and attempts with intake greater than once per day.”

Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages that usually contain high amounts of caffeine, sugar, and stimulants such as taurine, ginseng, and guarana. The caffeine content can vary anywhere between 50 mg and 505 mg of caffeine per serving. For comparison, a 250 ml serving of coffee or tea contains 90 mg and 50 mg of caffeine, respectively. One can of Mountain Dew contains about 55 mg of caffeine, and diet soda contains approximately 41 mg.

According to the paper, boys and older adolescents were more likely to consume energy drinks than girls, likely due to aggressive branding and marketing.

In a 2013 study of 37,500 children and adolescents in 16 European countries cited by the authors, 18% of children ages 3 to 10 years and 68% of adolescents ages 10 to 18 years consumed energy drinks the previous year, with 12% and 35% of children and adolescents respectively having consumed an energy drink at least once per week. This is alarming, considering this study is over a decade old, and the energy drink industry has expanded exponentially.

Researchers Issue Warning on Energy Drinks 

Lead author of the study, Amelia Lake, a professor of public health nutrition, said in a news release that energy drinks are marketed to children and young people to improve energy and performance, but the findings suggest they’re doing more harm than good. 

Lake has been raising concerns about the health impacts of energy drinks for nearly a decade after discovering they were available to children as young as 10 years old for less than the price of bottled water.

“The evidence is clear that energy drinks are harmful to the mental and physical health of children and young people as well as their behavior and education. We need to take action now to protect them from these risks,” she warned. 

Co-author Shelina Visram said in a news release she is “deeply concerned about the findings that energy drinks can lead to psychological distress and issues with mental health.” 

The researchers are calling on the UK to ban or restrict energy drinks—the largest growing soft drink sector—for younger people and children. 

“This evidence suggests that energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and young people,” Lake told Fox News. “Policymakers should follow the example from countries that have placed age restrictions on their sales to children.”

Lake acknowledged that the findings are primarily derived from cross-sectional studies exploring association rather than causation, but studies to establish causation are difficult because of “ethical and feasibility issues.”

The American Beverage Industry Responds to Report

In a statement to Fox News Digital, a spokesperson from the American Beverage Association stated:

“Energy drinks have been enjoyed by billions of people around the world for more than 30 years and are recognized by government food safety agencies worldwide, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, and the European Food Safety Authority, as safe for consumption.”

The spokesperson said that neither study showed energy drinks “cause sleep problems or any health issues,” and the paper’s authors noted there could be other explanations for their findings. 

“America’s leading energy drink manufacturers voluntarily go beyond all federal requirements when it comes to responsible labeling and marketing practices, including displaying total caffeine content from all sources and to not promote excessive or unduly rapid consumption of their drinks,” the ABA’s spokesperson added.

The spokesperson said mainstream energy drinks contain half the amount of caffeine found in similar-sized servings of coffee at a coffeehouse. However, kids don’t frequent coffee houses, nor is coffee marketed to children. 

Several Countries Have Attempted to Ban Energy Drinks for Kids 

Several countries, including Lithuania and Latvia, have already regulated energy drinks by banning sales to minors. Although the UK hasn’t banned energy drinks, some supermarkets have imposed voluntary bans to restrict sales.

In the United States, energy drinks are the second most common “dietary supplement” used by young people. In 2015, 30% reported consuming energy drinks regularly.

The recently published review is the most comprehensive study of its kind and was conducted by researchers at Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health at Teesside University, and Newcastle University in the UK.

Megan Redshaw

Megan Redshaw

Megan is an attorney and journalist with additional expertise in natural health. She has a flare for breaking down complex and controversial topics into easy-to-synthesize and entertaining pieces that empower others to make informed decisions.

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