The popularity and increased use of energy drinks among youth in Nova Scotia is a growing concern for physicians.
It’s no secret that these highly-caffeinated beverages present significant health risks to children and youth that respectively make up the demographic groups receiving the focus of the industry’s marketing efforts. Too much caffeine can result in nausea and vomiting and/or heart irregularities and anxiety. A small amount of caffeine could also cause sleeping problems, headaches, irritability and nervousness.
Highly-caffeinated beverages, or energy drinks, have been reported in association with serious adverse effects, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavior disorder with those who take certain medications.
A report published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics states that of the 5,448 US caffeine overdoses reported in 2007, 46 per cent occurred in those younger than 19 years.
There is a misconception among many energy drink consumers that caffeinated drinks are natural and wholesome – a message reinforced through industry advertising, and the use of words such as “herbal” in the product description, building on the misconception that herbal is harmless. This simply isn’t the case.
How Much Is Too Much?
The levels of caffeine found within some energy drinks contain as much as levels found within 14 cans of Coca-Cola. This translates to levels of up to 360 milligrams per serving. Health Canada currently recommends the maximum daily caffeine intake for kids under 12 is 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. So a youth who is 54 kilograms should not consume more than 136 milligrams of caffeine daily.
It can be easy to over consume caffeine as many beverages contain above the recommended maximum daily consumption. Some energy drinks contain 360 milligrams of caffeine, more than twice the recommended daily intake.
Recently, Hockey Nova Scotia, spoke out about their concerns, wanting to “crack down on energy drink use among young players”. Their current initiative to educate coaches, parents and players alike of the dangers with energy drinks is seen as a positive move within the medical community.
Caffeinated Alcohol Drinks
The consumption of caffeinated alcohol is a significant issue in Nova Scotia with a direct link between the consumption of caffeinated alcohol and increased injury levels. In fact, a recent report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal proves that 25 per cent of Nova Scotia’s youth in high school are mixing energy drinks with alcohol.
Pre-mixed caffeinated alcohol drinks typically contain higher alcohol amounts than beer, at five to 12 per cent and have high caffeine levels, the actual amount which is often not reported. The existence of a legal “loophole” within Health Canada regulations under the Food and Drugs Act allows caffeine sources defined as natural (a common source being guarana)to be sold within alcohol products. While Health Canada has not approved the sale of any pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks for sale, this loophole allows caffeine in alcohol beverages if derived from such natural sources as guarana.
Caffeinated Alcohol and Injury
With the combined effects of a stimulant found in caffeine and a depressant found in alcohol the subjective feeling of alcohol intoxication is diminished without reducing actual alcohol-related impairment. The result for those ingesting these drinks is increased consumption of alcohol, resulting in a “wide awake drunk”.
The increased perceived sobriety results in individuals drinking more, leading to more binge drinking behaviour. One report found “bar patrons who consumed alcohol mixed with energy drinks were also four times more likely to intend to drive upon leaving the bar”. Further research confirms the following evidence:
Those who combine alcohol and energy drinks are more likely to:
- Be injured/physically hurt
- Require medical treatment
- Ride with an intoxicated driver
- Increase their potential for alcohol poisoning
- Be victims or perpetrators of aggressive sexual behavior
- Be involved in violent offending and victimization
Findings demonstrate that the current approach of warning labels isn’t effective in deterring youth from consuming energy drinks. That’s why Doctors Nova Scotia would like to see the province restrict access to energy drinks for people under 19 years of age. In addition, it’s important for all Nova Scotians to understand the dangers of combing alcohol with energy drinks.
Do you think the sale of energy drinks should be restricted to people under the age of 19?