How much caffeine is in an energy drink?
Good question! Energy drinks often contain more than twice the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, but manufacturers aren’t required to list or limit the amount. The Food and Drug Administration limits caffeine in sodas – but not energy drinks because these are frequently marketed as dietary supplements.
The popularity of energy drinks is growing, especially among adolescents and young adults, who make up half the market. Energy drinks have the fastest-growing beverage market, with sales expected to hit $16 billion this year. “This is a public health concern,” said Dr. Christopher Liebig, a sports medicine specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“They are targeting a specific group, and people are starting to realize these drinks are being over consumed,” Dr. Liebig said. “Between 30 and 40 percent of adolescents are consuming energy drinks regularly. These drinks aren’t benign. The amounts of caffeine can be dangerous for some kids.”
In a tragic case this spring, a South Carolina teen died after binging on a McDonald’s café latte, an energy drink and large Mountain Dew. The coroner said excessive caffeine likely caused a fatal heart arrhythmia. “Caffeine quickly adds up, more than people may realize,” Dr. Liebig said. “You can be in the toxic range before you know it.”
In an article titled “Energy Drinks are Killing Young People,” researchers from the University of California and the Nutrition Policy Institute noted that from 2005-2011, energy drink-related emergency room visits rose from 1,494 to 20,783. “This included high rates of unintentional exposure in children younger than 6,” the researchers wrote.
Teens should consume no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day, but often they consume several times that amount. In addition, many energy drinks contain additives such as guarana, which also contains caffeine.
“We’re not sure about the long-term health consequences of using caffeine in children,” said Dr. Liebig. “Short-term, we see sleep disturbances, heart arrhythmias, elevated blood pressure and also dehydration.
”Some kids don’t even realize there is a difference between ‘sports drinks’ and ‘energy drinks,’” Dr. Liebig said. If you gulp an energy drink to stay hydrated, the caffeine has the opposite effect. In addition, sugar in energy drinks and other beverages add up to too much sugar for many kids.
“It’s not just the risk from the caffeine, but obesity as well. Some energy drinks contain more sugar than soda,” Dr. Liebig said.
The prospect of a generation hooked on energy drinks is frightening to Dr. Liebig and other health advocates. They urge parents to say no to energy drinks and otherwise limit their kids’ caffeine intake.