While energy drinks and sports drinks are touted as the secrets to increased mental and physical performance, new research suggests that the beverages actually lead to the opposite, particularly in teens. The consumption of these high-sugar, high-caffeine beverages indicates a cluster of poor behaviors, such as increased amounts of television watching, more time spent playing video games, poor sleep, consuming more sugar, fluctuating physical activity, and a greater risk of smoking cigarettes.
According to the study, released Monday by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Duke University, young people between 6th and 12th grades are at a greater risk for negative behaviors if they consume one or more sports or energy drinks per week. The study did not consider physical activity in regard to energy drink consumption, but did note that sports drink users were more likely to participate in some form of physical activity throughout the week.
Of particular note are increased amounts of “screen media” use, write the researchers. “Among boys, weekly sports drink consumption was significantly associated with higher TV viewing; boys who regularly consumed sports drinks spent about one additional hour per week watching TV compared with boys who consumed sports drinks less than once per week,” said Nicole Larson, lead author of the study. “Boys who consumed energy drinks at least weekly spent approximately four additional hours per week playing video games, compared to those who consumed energy drinks less than once per week.”
Researchers pooled test subjects from a wide range of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds across 20 Minneapolis middle and high schools. The article makes note of a media study showing that energy beverages’ ads are targeted predominantly to black and multiracial youth.
“I think it’s a pattern of behaviors that just compound on each other,” Gary D. Miller, PhD, an associate professor of exercise science at Kent State University, told The Daily Beast. “It seems like sometimes they develop these risky behaviors. Once one occurs, it’s easy to fall into patterns of poor judgment.” Miller agreed that, to some extent, this has to do with lack of nutrition education. “It can’t just be a simple education, like a parent telling their kids this is bad. It has to be ingrained on a long-term scale,” Miller said.
This is far from the first research linking sugary beverage consumption to poor dietary health, though it is the first to concentrate on young people’s behavior aside from the consumption of the beverages themselves. In February 2011, a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research linked energy drink consumption to an increased risk of alcohol dependence. A number of studies throughout the last few years have also shown that mixing energy drinks with alcohol leads to a higher risk of casual sex and other risky behaviors.
Another study conducted at Wayne State University in 2007 showed that consuming the beverages poses an increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, due to huge amounts of taurine and caffeine present. Johns Hopkins researchers have been advocating the use of warning labels on energy drinks for years now.
A representative from the American Beverage Association said the dataset is incomplete. “It’s important to note that this research, which looks at association only, in no way shows that energy or sports drink consumption in any population causes ‘negative’ behaviors,” Christopher Gindlesperger, senior director of public affairs for the ABA, told The Daily Beast. In addition, he pointed to another survey. “A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows virtually no caffeine consumption from energy drinks among children under 12 and extremely low consumption for adolescents aged 12 to 18.” The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that adolescents consume sports drinks only after very vigorous physical activity and recommends adolescents consume no energy drinks whatsoever.
“The scary part is that we don’t know the long-term effects of these beverages. We’re not sure because the development of adolescent bodies goes on for so much longer than these drinks have been a fad,” Miller said. “When consuming beverages with a high concentration of ingredients like caffeine and sugar, at this age, the cardiovascular system can be affected, blood pressure can increase, [and it can affect] the nervous system, and even [cause] arrhythmias. On the other hand, they could be harmless on a long-term scale. We just don’t know.”