Energy Drinks And Our Youth

Energy drinks vs. sports drinks

 Parents and caregivers can become confused about the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks.

Sports drinks are used to replace water (rehydrate) and electrolytes lost through sweating after physical activity.

Electrolytes are minerals, such as potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium, that keep the body's balance of fluids at the proper level. The body may lose electrolytes when you sweat.

Sports drinks can also restore carbohydrate that the body uses during activity. Some examples of sports drinks include Gatorade, Powerade, Bodyarmor and Accelerade.

Energy drinks are completely different!

If you haven’t read about energy drinks and the side effects or health risks associated with them,  read more here.

Young athletes often consume energy drinks before workouts, thinking they will enhance their performance. But the results of that can sometimes be catastrophic. Energy drinks consumed before or during a workout can lead to dehydration, tremors, heat stroke, sudden cardiac arrest and even sudden cardiac death.

Unfortunately, energy drink companies are now operating in a space that significantly blurs the lines between these two categories. Some companies are producing products that are marketed as helping with rehydration and electrolyte balance, but also contain high levels of caffeine and other stimulants found in energy drinks. This merging of sports and energy drinks could cause serious confusion for consumers and result in unintentional consumption of large amounts of caffeine, when intending to drink only for hydration.

Time to listen to medical professionals and researchers

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states “caffeine and stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.” The American Medical Association (AMA) supports a ban on the marketing of energy drinks to adolescents under the age of 18. 


A summary of material presented at a Institute of Medicine (IOM) workshop in 2013 notes that, while caffeine is among the most heavily studied food ingredients, “a wealth of un-answered questions remains about exposure to caffeine in food and dietary supplements and the health consequences of that exposure especially in certain potentially vulnerable populations” such as children and adolescents. 

These statements are just a few of the many echoed by medical experts around the world who have been ringing the alarm bells for years about this unregulated and potentially dangerous industry. Despite the wealth of evidence and concerns about the safety of energy drinks, the industry continues to grow and energy drink consumption is on the rise.

*It's time to pay attention to the medical professionals…especially when it comes to our youth.


The known and unknown pharmacology of agents included in energy drinks, combined with reports of toxicity, raises concern for potentially serious adverse effects in association with energy drink use.

Energy drinks pose potential health risks to everyone because of the stimulants they contain. Children and adolescents can be especially vulnerable to the affects of energy drinks and medical experts have advised energy drinks should never be consumed by children or adolescents. 


Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive drug worldwide and may be the only psychoactive drug legally available over-the-counter to children and sold among food and beverage products. Caffeine toxicity and overdoses as a result of energy drinks are becoming more and more frequent. 

In many countries energy drinks are largely unregulated. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration limits the amount of caffeine in soda at 71 milligrams however no such limit exists on energy drinks. Many of the popular brands far exceed that amount of caffeine in their drinks and most range from 100mg - 400mg per can. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers 400 milligrams of caffeine as an acceptable level for healthy adults. To date, the U.S. government has not set a level of safe consumption of caffeine for young people. The American Academy of Pediatrics prefers children consume no caffeine at all.

Health Canada recommends adults limit their caffeine intake to no more than 400 mg/day. This is about the amount found in three 8-ounce cups of regular coffee.

Recommended limits for children are even lower.

Health Canada recomends no more than:

45mg/day for children 4-6years

62.5mg/day for children 7-9years 

85mg/day for children 10-12years

Adolescents aged 13 and older: No more than 2.5 mg/kg body weight.

Consumption amongst children & adolescents is on the rise

European Food Safety Authority estimates that 68% of adolescents, and 18% of children below 10 years of age consume energy drinks. A 2018 report found that more than 40% of American teens surveyed had consumed an energy drink within the past three months. 

Calls to poison centers related to energy drinks increased from 672 in 2010 to 3,028 in 2013, with 61% of the calls concerning children 18 and younger. The reported effects included seizures, delirium, faster than normal heart rate, and irregular heart rhythm – all consistent with caffeine toxicity.

Research on energy drink consumption presents cause for concern. Perhaps most pervasive, yet subtle, are

the possible interactions between energy drink use and neurodevelopment in adolescents. Long-term structural and functional changes in the brain of adolescents have been observed for other neuro-active substances, including nicotine and alcohol, suggesting it is reasonable to question the possible effects of caffeine on brain development. 


Additionally, caffeine impacts sleep and sleep quality, deficits of which have been linked to poor school performance and learning. Consumption of energy drinks by teens could exacerbate sleep issues, especially if it results in increased caffeine quantities and use of caffeinated products later in the day. 


Preliminary data show that secondary school students who often consumed energy drinks were more likely to have low attendance, receive a sanction, and receive lower grades. Another study found teens who consume energy drinks also report higher rates of risk behaviors including alcohol, cigarette, or drug use.


 According to a survey by the UK’s largest teachers’ union NASUWT, some 13% of teachers in the UK say caffeine and high-energy drinks drive poor pupil behaviour.

Health risks associated with energy drinks

There is particularly concern about the health effects of energy drink consumption by children and adolescents. Younger individuals tend to have greater sensitivity to a given serving of caffeine than adults because they are more likely to have a lower body mass and are less likely have already developed a pharmacological tolerance from regular caffeine consumption.


The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recently concluded that “rigorous review and analysis of the literature reveal that caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.” The Institute of Medicine has similarly recommended that any drinks containing caffeine should not be sold to children at school. 


Most major energy drink manufacturers have refused to address concerns raised by physicians’ groups and policymakers about the safety of their products when consumed by children under 18.

Fatalities and Injuries

Many deaths and injuries related to energy drinks have been reported. Unfortunately, because of inadequate reporting systems, we have no way to really know just how many people have actually died or been injured as a result of energy drink. In the United States LESS than 1% of these cases are ever reported. 

Cardiovascular Complications

Caffeine produces a number of cardiac effects. The consumption of energy drinks has been associated with elevated blood pressure, altered heart rates, and severe cardiac events in children and young adults. Those with underlying  or undiagnosed cardiovascular diseases are at even greater risk. 


In addition to cardiac events, cases have been reported of new-onset seizures attributed to energy drink consumption among 15- to 28-year-olds. In all of these cases, seizures ceased after the individuals abstained from consuming energy drinks.

Childhood Obesity

Energy drinks have also been shown to contribute to youth obesity due to their high calorie and sugar content. One  brands 24-oz can contains 81 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to 6.75 tablespoons. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition reports findings that the consumption of excessive carbohydrate calories from energy drinks increases risk for pediatric overweight and “energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.” In addition, adolescents are at risk for increased consumption of high-calorie energy beverages due to marketing claims that they enhance physical and mental performance and increase energy.

Other Health Issues

 Youth with higher caffeine intake commonly report troubling neurological symptoms, including nervousness, anxiety, jitteriness, and headache. In one review, youth consuming 100 to 400 mg of caffeine daily from dietary sources report jitteriness and nervousness. 


Studies have linked high caffeine intake to reduced sleep, poor academic performance, daytime sleepiness (falling asleep at school), aggressive behavior, and social and attention problems among youth.

With regard to energy drinks in particular, studies have shown negative behavioral effects among youth including jitteriness, anxiety, and dizziness, which might undermine students’ ability to stay on task, focus, and perform well.  A Korean study showed a link between energy drinks and suicidal thoughts in youth.

Although many energy drink manufacturers assert that additives such as taurine and B-vitamins improve physical or cognitive performance, current evidence does not support these claims.  Finally, energy drinks that have higher titratable acidity levels than sports drinks have been associated with comparatively more tooth enamel loss.

Are energy drink companies targeting our youth?

Adolescent brains are inherently more susceptible to psychoactive substances and the rewarding properties of these substances. Adolescent boys are particularly responsive to the reinforcing properties of caffeine and the subjective effects of 'energy’ and 'feeling a rush.' Caffeine itself also conditions specific flavor preferences “with initial flavor preferences likely evolving into habitual brand preferences, perhaps lasting a lifetime.” 


The characteristics of adolescent neurodevelopment combined with the distinctive properties of caffeine may allow teen use to drive future adult consumption patterns, providing a long-term commercial interest for establishing brand loyalty early in life. Thus, energy drink marketing approaches that are especially appealing to adolescents—either through content (featuring young teen athletes consuming the product) or medium (unrestricted social media)—may be adapting the approach historically used by tobacco companies of cultivating and sensitizing kids early as a means to grow future markets.

During a 2013 hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, energy drink company executives asserted their product “is safe for teenagers and adults to consume,” and “We believe our product is safe for teenagers, and there is no reason why teenagers should not be part of being able to consume the brand.”

In 2013, three United States Senators Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut raised questions about safety and marketing of energy drinks and

launched an investigation into the marketing practices of energy-drink companies.


They found that adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 are frequent targets of energy-drink marketing, and stated in a written report that “this population is also at risk for the detrimental impacts of energy-drink consumption.” Based on the information their staff gathered from 12 energy drink companies. Eight of the 12 companies – constituting more than 90 percent of the energy drink market – refused to stop marketing their products to children 12 years old or older.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, energy drink companies define “minors” as children under the age of 12 (6th graders) for marketing purposes.

In spite of numerous medical professionals and health organizations raising concerns about the safety of energy drinks, the American Beverage Association (ABA) a trade association representing companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages in the United States put forth voluntary guidelines stating energy drinks should not be marketed to “children,” defined as individuals under the age of 12 years old. Representatives from two of the world's leading energy drink companies have denied their companies advertise to young teenagers. 


At a July 2013 US Senate hearing and in repeated other public statements, energy drink companies have insisted that their target market is adults. However, when pressed to take specific action to limit marketing to youth, many companies confine their commitments to the under-12 age group identified in the current industry guidelines.

 A 2017 study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, tested whether young consumers perceived energy-drink advertising as being targeted at people their age and younger. Researchers randomly assigned over 2,000 Canadians ages 12 to 24 to view one of four online ads for one of the leading energy drink companies. Among the youngest subjects—those ages 12 to 14—nearly 72% of participants who viewed an advertisement featuring the company’s sponsorship of the X Games, an extreme-sports event, perceived the ad to be targeted to people their age and younger.

71% of those who were shown the ads thought the ads they viewed promoted the use of energy drinks during sports.

In 2010, children saw more television ads for one top-selling energy drink than for any other beverage but Capri Sun and Kool-Aid. 

Despite promises by major beverage companies to be part of the solution in addressing childhood obesity, one report shows that companies continue to market their unhealthy products directly to children and teens.

US adolescents saw on average 124 television ads for energy drinks and shots, which is the equivalent of one ad every 3 days. This is similar to adolescents’ viewing of regular soda ads (122), and more ads for energy drinks and shots than seen by adults. 


Adolescents viewed 9–16 % more ads than adults for three energy drink brands. The majority of energy drink ads viewed by adolescents appeared on youth-targeted cable networks including Adult Swim (80–90% more adolescent than adult viewers), MTV, and MTV2 (88–199 % more adolescent viewers), and Comedy Central (20–30 % more adolescent viewers).

Beverage companies continue to target Black and Latino youth, who have higher rates of obesity than white youth.

  • Black children and teens saw more than twice as many sugary drink ads on TV as their white peers.

  • Spanish-language TV advertising for sugary drinks and energy shots increased by 44%.

Social media is particularly relevant to marketing outreach and appeal to young people. 95% of youth aged

12-17 report connecting to the Internet, and the vast majority use social media.

Given that most youth are online and engaged in social media, one common sense measure to limit youth exposure to energy drink marketing is to limit access to website and social media for those brands. Age restrictions for social media and websites are certainly possible and, in fact, are already employed by some energy drink companies. 


For example, company websites can require users to indicate that they are 18 before they can access a website. Other approaches to restricting website and social media access include: setting age restrictions for being able to ‘like’ a page on Facebook; requesting date of birth information in order to sign up for notices and special offers; requesting name and date of birth information to move into a website and explore. These restrictions provide notice to teens and parents that the product being marketed is not intended for teens. 

When asked, only one company was willing to fully restrict website and social media access for individuals under 18. The other 13 responding energy drink companies declined to restrict access for those under 18 to social media sites owned, managed, or operated by their company. 


Companies justified their opposition to marketing restrictions and labeling for children under the age of 18 by defending the “safety” of limited caffeine consumption by adolescents, without addressing the issue of potential misuse or overuse in this population.

Given that these same manufacturers state that adolescents under 18 are not their target demographic and do not account for a large share of the current market, it should not be necessary to specifically market or directly appeal to adolescents. Refusal to cease marketing practices that appeal to youth under age 18 raises questions about whether some energy drink companies are attempting to build brand loyalty among teens in order to secure a future market for their products.

The investigative report issued in March 2013 by then US Representative Markey and Senators Durbin and Blumenthal found clear evidence that energy drink companies were promoting their products at school events. For example, one manufacturer had a practice of awarding outstanding high school athletes. Another manufacturer sponsored several different types of high school sports events.This was happening despite the fact that ABA Guidance for the Responsible Labeling and Marketing of Energy Drinks states “energy drinks should not be sold nor marketed in schools (K-12)."

Energy drink companies use brightly colored liquids and containers, social media, and marketing promoting energy drinks as sports drinks. The drinks often have bold cartoon logos, and flavors that resemble candy and some kids are attracted to them because “the can looked cool.” 

Some of the top drink companies are inserting their marketing into music festivals, video games, and even sponsoring young teens who compete in video gaming, race car driving, motocross, skateboarding, scooter and surf competitions. Because of this, more teens and younger children are becoming consumers of stimulant-laden energy drinks.

Realize the risk

In the U.S. children are free to legally purchase and consume energy drinks. Unfortunately most consumers are unaware of the factual dangers of these drinks. Our youth are consuming a product that can affect endothelial function by causing a narrowing of the blood vessels and restricted blood flow by 50%.

This can create a flow-demand imbalance which is the classic setup for ischemia in the heart muscle, and can lead to ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, sudden cardiac arrest and even sudden cardiac death. 

For years medical professionals have been warning about the dangers of energy drinks, especially when consumed by children and teens. Some kids seem to have some degree of understanding that energy drinks can be dangerous, however they continue to consume them, and many are consuming irresponsibly. 

Good judgment isn’t something children and teenagers can excel in, at least not yet. The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.

Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part. 

Discussing the consequences of their actions can help teens link impulsive thinking with facts. This helps the brain make these connections and wires the brain to make this link more often.

Social responsibility

As sales of energy drinks rise every year, and energy drink related emergency room and hospital visits also on the rise, the need to act becomes even more critical. Steps to protect the health of our children are both feasible and necessary. The problem has been identified. Now is the time to act!

We need to improve the education of children, adolescents and their parents in the area of energy drinks.

This education must highlight the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks and their associated potential health risks. There is a real need to introduce this as early as the elementary grades.

Educating them about the products is a lot different than just telling them not to do it.

For years, countless medical professionals, researchers and teachers have called for a ban on the sale and consumption of energy drinks to minor children. We can do our best to educate our youth about the danger of energy drinks but as we all know, children don't always listen to everything adults tell them or teach them.  

Many parents don't allow their children to consume energy drinks therefore there are many kids hiding the fact they're drinking them. It's impossible to police children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, especially as they become teenagers. 


Banning energy drinks to minors is important and very much needed in order to avoid more children senselessly dying and being injured from energy drinks!

14 year old Anais Fournier was able to purchase the energy drink that killed her in the candy store at her local shopping mall. 

15 year old Brian Shepherd was given a free can of the energy drink that killed him by the drink company who was at a local kids paintball tournament handing out free samples.

16 year old Davis Cripe purchased the energy drink that killed him at a local store during his school lunch break

survey of parents by The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University showed parents were supportive of restrictions and regulations of energy drinks. Parents also displayed support for regulations that would limit the marketing of these products to youth.

  • 78% think energy drinks should not be marketed to kids or teens

  • 74% think energy drinks shouldn’t be sold to kids or teens

Videos of children and teens from many different countries drinking energy drinks are all over YouTube and social media. Many kids say they know the drinks can be dangerous, but they just don't care.

Adults who may, or may not be aware of the dangers of energy drinks are giving these dangerous stimulants to children. Sadly, there are companies who are allowing children and teens to drink and advertise these products while exploiting them for brand recognition and social media likes and followers.

What can you do?

  • Parents, teachers and other school staff can educate students about the danger of consuming  energy drinks.

  • Parents and coaches can educate athletes about the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks and potential dangers of consuming energy drinks.

  • Parents, school staff, and community members can join the school or district wellness committee that sets the policies for health and wellness and establish or revise nutrition standards to address the sale and marketing of energy drinks in school settings.

  • Parents, teachers and community members, let your your local school district know you want them to ban energy drinks on your schools campus.

  • Contact you local officials and governing law makers. Let them know you expect them to make the health and safety of the youth in your communities a priority over the the profits of energy drink companies. Let them know you want a law banning the sale and consumption of energy drinks to minor children under the age of 18 years. 

  • Everyone can model good behavior by not consuming energy drinks in front of kids.

"Awareness without

action is worthless"

- Phil McGraw