For the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the red flag against energy drinks. The global health agency has announced that energy drinks are all set to become a significant public health problem if their use among young people is not addressed.
WHO added that aggressive marketing of energy drinks targeted at young people combined with limited and varied regulation has created an environment where energy drinks could pose a significant threat to public health.
Energy drinks are known to contain high caffeine levels, which cause palpitations, hypertension, vomiting, convulsions and in extreme cases heart failure leading to death. WHO has now called for a cap on caffeine levels and restrictions on the sale and marketing of energy drinks.
WHO said that in 2006, almost 500 new brands of energy drinks were released worldwide. The energy drink industry is booming, with sales of energy drinks estimated to be over US$ 12.5 billion in 2012, an increase of 60 percent from 2008 to 2012.
While no standard definition of an ‘energy drink’ is used in the scientific literature, it is commonly understood to be a non-alcoholic drink that contains caffeine (usually its main ingredient), taurine and vitamins marketed for its perceived or actual benefits as a stimulant, for improving performance and for increasing energy.
In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) commissioned a study to gather consumption data for energy drinks in 16 countries of the European Union. They found that 68 percent of adolescents (aged 10-18 years old), 30 percent of adults, and 18 percent of children consumed energy drinks. Joao Breda from WHO Europe said that over 70 percent of 18- to 29-year olds who drink energy drinks mix them with alcohol, which is more risky than drinking only alcohol as it makes harder for people to realize they are getting drunk.
Further studies from the US found a positive association between energy drink consumption and high-risk behaviors, while a study by the US military indicated that soldiers who consumed energy drinks had a higher prevalence of suicide, and soldiers who combined energy drinks with alcohol had an even higher prevalence.
WHO recommended a number of policies that policy makers could consider as they move to minimize the potential for harmful effects from energy drink consumption, including an evidence-based, upper limit for the amount of caffeine allowed in a single serving of any drink. WHO also called for restriction of sales to children and adolescents due to the potentially harmful adverse and developmental effects of caffeine on children.
The world health agency added that even as little as 50mg of caffeine can induce tachycardia and agitation. In overdose, caffeine toxicity can mimic amphetamine poisoning and lead to seizures, psychosis, cardiac arrhythmias and potentially but rarely, death.