A group of sports medicine professionals are warning that children should avoid energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster, urging the energy drink industry to cease all marketing that is directed towards minors.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) issued an official statement on February 8, indicating that children are particularly susceptible to both energy drink side effects and are the usual target of energy drink marketing campaigns.
In a Contemporary Issues Paper published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, the ACSM calls for wide dissemination of the message that energy drinks are not intended for children.
“Energy drinks are extremely popular and concerns about their consumption are coming from every sector of society, which is why we’ve published these recommendations.” Dr. John Higgins, one of the statement’s authors, said in the ACSM press release. “Our review of the available science showed that excessive levels of caffeine found in energy drinks can have adverse effects on cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, renal and endocrine systems, as well as psychiatric symptoms. More needs to be done to protect children and adolescents, as well as adults with cardiovascular or other medical conditions.”
The issues paper links side effects of energy drinks to a long list of potential health problems, including acute cardiovascular problems, epileptic seizures, intracerebral hemorrhage, gastrointestinal upset, kidney failure, rhabdomyolysis, metabolic acidosis, loss of insulin sensitivity, restlessness, insomnia, and increases in risk-taking behavior.
In addition, the paper notes a list of energy drink side effects that appear to be specific to children and adolescents, primarily due to the higher total concentrations of caffeine in relation to their body mass. These can include palpitations, seizures, and affects on performance, behavior and health.
The ACSM statement includes four primary recommendations. It calls for protecting at risk children from the high risk of complications, by spreading the message that energy drinks are not for children. The paper also calls for manufacturers to stop marketing to at-risk groups, particularly children.
“Currently, manufacturers of energy drinks advertise on websites, social media and television channels that are highly appealing to both children and adolescents,” the group states. “Target marketing to sporting and other events involving children and adolescents should not be permitted.”
The group also calls for warnings that energy drinks should not be used before, during or after strenuous activities, and indicates that more education and research data is needed to educate consumers regarding the differences between soda, coffee, sports drinks and energy drinks, and that there should be more research focused on acute and chronic effects of energy drink consumption.
Energy Drink Health Concerns
A study published last year by Australian researchers linked caffeinated energy drinks to heart problems that can cause rapid, irregular heartbeats in some consumers. The effects could result in fainting, seizures and even sudden death, the researchers warned.
Several studies have found that consumption of only a couple energy drinks over a several week period can cause increased blood pressure and heart arrhythmias, which can cause long-term heart problems.
In March 2016, the American Heart Association indicated that the overuse of energy drinks could cause increased heart problems including heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrest and other potentially life-threatening complications.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in November 2015, found that consuming just one can of Rockstar energy drink led to an increased risk of heart problems and high blood pressure among young, healthy adults.
The FDA is currently investigating health concerns surrounding the drinks, after a number of adverse event reports were submitted in recent years connecting energy drinks to severe injuries and deaths.
According to information released in 2012, at least 37 adverse event reports had been received by the FDA involving health problems from Monster Energy drinks, including at least six deaths.
Amid aggressive marketing by the manufacturers, energy drink sales increased 240% between 2004 and 2009, and the number of caffeine overdose emergency room visits increased from 1,128 in 2005 to 16,055 in 2008. Approximately 56% of those visits involved individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 years.
In recent years, a number of energy drink lawsuits have been filed on behalf of otherwise healthy young adults who suffered sudden heart problems within hours after drinking the beverages, alleging that the manufacturers placed their desire for profits before the safety of consumers.