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Are 'Energy' Drinks Threatening Our Kids?

Researchers are calling for warning labels and other steps to curb the abuse of those wildly popular high-caffeine "energy drinks."

Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University and 98 other experts sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration this week saying they had become increasingly alarmed about Red Bull and similar caffeine-laced beverages.

The researchers cited a paper Griffiths and his colleagues recently published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, which noted that Americans are already spending billions on such drinks annually. Hundreds of new products are being introduced each year and sales are increasing rapidly. The advertising campaigns tend to target teens and young adults, especially young males, and, Griffiths and his colleagues say, appear to glorify illicit drug use.

In addition to other ingredients, the products contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine per can or bottle. To put that into perspective, a regular 12-ounce can of cola has about 35 milligrams of caffeine and a six-ounce cup of coffee has between about 77 and 150 milligrams.

The researchers are worried about all sorts of problems. Too much caffeine can lead to "caffeine intoxication," which can cause nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, stomach problems and even rapid heartbeats and death in rare cases. The scope of the problem is unclear. But at least 41 such cases related to energy drinks were reported to poison control centers between 2002 and 2004 alone, the researchers noted. And that's probably just the tip of the iceberg.

In addition, research indicates that young people tend to mix these drinks with alcohol and those that do are more likely to take advantage of or be taken advantage of by another student sexually, ride in a car with a drunk driver or be hurt or injured. And that's not all. There's mounting evidence that young people who use these drinks are much more likely to go on to use prescription stimulants, raising concern they serve as a "gateway" to more serious drug abuse. There's even an energy drink additive called "Blow" which resembles cocaine powder and is sold in vials with a mirror and plastic cards, as well as another one called "Cocaine."

The researchers noted that Canada and many European countries require these drinks to carry labels warning about their high caffeine content and cautioning against mixing them with alcohol. Some ban certain products altogether.

In contrast, in the United States energy drinks are virtually unregulated. No labeling is required. They don't even have to list how much caffeine they contain, even though they may have a lot more than over-the-counter stimulants like NoDoz, which are required to carry warnings.

Griffiths and his colleagues think that at the very least these products should be labeled and carry warnings. But they'd also like to see restrictions on advertising and aggressive marketing, especially to young people.

What do you think?

By Rob Stein  |  October 9, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Teens  
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I don't know that we're ready for regulations and I don't think warning labels achieve much. Information is always helpful, though.

There is no excuse: caffiene content must be included on the label. As with sodium, the label should indicate how much of the daily maximum is included in the drink.

Posted by: josey23 | October 9, 2008 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Absolutely caffeinated drinks should be required to list their caffeine content. Packaged food lists the amount of calories and other nutritional information. Since caffeine is a stimulant and can have drug interactions with various medications, that information should certainly be provided. That there is such a large youth market for energy drinks underscores the need for labeling.

Posted by: Arlingtonmom | October 9, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Sarah Palin apparently drinks a lot of Red Bull. That explains a lot of things. For me, it's a serious red flag regarding her candidacy. At least couple of recent Newsweek articles, 9/15, 9/22, mention her use of it.

Posted by: martona | October 9, 2008 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Let's put this into perspective - the caffeine content in mainstream energy drinks (those that make up about 95% of the marketshare) is about half that of a regular Starbucks coffee of the same size. And like all food and beverage products, mainstream enegy drinks can be part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle when consumed sensibly.

Dr. Griffiths does a disservice to consumers by lumping all enegy drinks together - including the fringe and novelty drinks that attempt to one-up each other with added ingredient amounts or illicit names.

The producers of mainstream energy drinks are responsbile players who do not market their products to children and make their their ingredient mix readily available either on the package, via 1-800 number, or on their web sites.

For its part, caffeine itself has been safely enjoyed in food and beverages by literally billions of people since at least 3,000 BC.

Please visit for more information.

Posted by: Craig Stevens | October 9, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

This article is ridiculous. The studies say it is possible that energy drinks can increase the person to use harsher drugs. Also, the part about being taken advantage of sexually is based on a study that doesn't say anything about people being taken advantage of sexually.

But, I do agree that the amount of caffeine should be listed.

Posted by: Kevin | October 11, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Check out Chi3, the only all natural GoChi powered energy drink on the market.

You feel alert, focused, and ready to go without the jitters or the sugar crash that can come from drinking high-calorie canned energy drinks. You might want to check it out.

George Dorunda

Posted by: George Dorunda | October 12, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

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