Background Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages that typically contain high levels of caffeine and sugar in combination with other stimulants. Growing numbers of young people report regular consumption of these drinks, which may lead to caffeine intoxication, sleep disruption, and hyperactivity. There are also likely health implications associated with excessive sugar intake, such as dental erosion and type 2 diabetes. This review set out to examine patterns of energy drink consumption by children and adolescents and any evidence of adverse effects.
Methods A systematic review was conducted, employing an inclusive approach to identify quantitative and qualitative studies investigating the use of energy drinks by children and adolescents. Data sources included nine bibliographic databases, reference lists of relevant studies, and searches of the internet via Google. Two independent reviewers assessed the methodological quality of the studies and abstracted data. Due to the heterogeneity of study designs, contexts and outcomes, the data have been descriptively summarised in a narrative synthesis.
Results A total of 262 studies were located, with 37 meeting the inclusion criteria – 31 quantitative studies, four qualitative studies, and two literature reviews. The majority (n = 29) involved subjects aged 11–18 years, although analyses of poison centre data tended to include broader populations. Studies were largely conducted in North America (n = 18) or Europe (n = 10), yet all of the qualitative studies were from Australia or New Zealand. None of the included studies were from the UK. Two-thirds (n = 24) were cross-sectional surveys exploring i) consumption patterns, attitudes and reasons for energy drink use, or ii) associations with health-related behaviours or effects, including susceptibility to smoking and drug use, sleep problems, and diminished executive functions. A number of key themes emerged from the qualitative studies: the role of branding and advertising; taste as a motivating factor; peer influence; and perceived physiological effects, both negative and positive.
Conclusion Energy drinks have no known therapeutic benefit and the evidence suggests that they may put some children at risk of adverse health effects. However, taste and youth-aimed marketing combine to ensure their popularity with young consumers. More research is needed to explore the short- and long-term effects of energy drink consumption by children and adolescents.
- Children and young people’s health
- diet and nutrition
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