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
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.