When I was a young girl it was an exciting time when I could add chocolate or Ovaltine to my milk.
That was a pretty simple time. Today, the number of sugary drink options my children have is absolutely astounding. According to a recent study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, there are now 600 products to choose from. They range from full-calorie sodas, sports drinks, vitamin water drinks, flavored waters, fruit drinks to the fairly new option of “energy” drinks.
My children’s generation is used to having lots of options. But, some of what they’re choosing may be influenced more by marketing dollars than even they realize. Adults, like me, may be pretty clueless when it comes to how much advertising is being sent my teens’ way. According to Jennifer Harris, PhD, lead researcher on the obesity report, “[advertisements] they were on the radio, they were in product placements, they were on the Internet in banner advertising, in social media, on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and also in even some mobile net banner ads and smart phone applications for these products. So when you looked at how much there was, it was pretty shocking.”
This study also found that most children are consuming an average of 110 calories and seven teaspoons of sugar every time they’re slamming back that energy or fruit drink. The researchers found that even consuming one of these high-calorie drinks per day increased a child’s odds of becoming obese by 60 percent. Drinks like these are the number one source of added sugar in our teen’s diets.
Since 2007, many school districts have banned soda machines on campus, without realizing or understanding that the Sunny D or Gatorade has just as much, or even more, sugar and calories. A study conducted by the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan found that “….85 percent of the eight graders said they consumed sugary drinks at least once a week regardless of the state policy and 26 to 33 percent reported drinking them daily.”
Another worry for parents is the lack of government regulation of the energy drink industry. Red Bull began to be marketed heavily in the United States in 1997, after a strong European introduction. This has been followed by many different brands “…with caffeine content ranging from a modest 50 mg to an alarming 505 mg per can or bottle” according to research performed by Chad J. Reissig, a researcher at The John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
One serving of energy drinks is problematic, but three or four could be deadly. In fact, one study in 2007 found that 51 percent of college students consumed energy drinks. Energy drinks contain between 70 and 80 mg of caffeine per serving. Some contain as much caffeine as slamming back 14 cans of Coke all at once.
Another college tradition is the use of “energy shots” which are concentrated versions of energy drinks. One called 5150 Energy contained 500 mg. of caffeine in a one-ounce bottle. Since most people don’t chug a hot cup of coffee, the caffeine is being delivered to the young people’s bodies in a short period of time. There have also been reports on college campuses warning of the danger of mixing energy drinks with alcohol. It’s so popular on college campuses that the website www.drinknation.com lists hundreds of recipes using energy drinks.
The proliferation of energy drinks has even caused a new clinical symptom to be added into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual coining the term “caffeine intoxication.” Several distinct symptoms of caffeine toxicity include increased nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, tremors, and heart palpitations. As anyone who is used to regularly drinking coffee and then suddenly stops knows, there is also a symptom of caffeine withdrawal, which usually includes severe headaches and nausea.
The $5.4 billion-a-year beverage market which pushes Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar at our teens isn’t about to stop. In fact, starting in 2010 the industry reported 55 percent growth with more than 31 percent of U.S. teenagers saying they consume energy drinks.
With energy drinks being relatively new on the market, there is a lot we don’t know about the short- term and long- term impact of energy drinks. As concerned parents, we should share what we do know, make informed decisions and exercise due caution.