Southern Campus faculty study the effects of energy drinks
It’s an ordinary sight on campuses: students drinking high-caffeine energy drinks. These quick-burst-of-energy concoctions are quickly becoming the beverage of choice for many college age and adolescent students. The promise of extra energy mixed with appealing product names and packaging draw this group to the product.
Nicole Pennington, director of nursing at Ohio University Southern chose to research the effect of energy drinks on young adolescents after she noticed her own children becoming interested in these types of beverages.
“The added energy spike they receive, coupled with the rate of consumption has grown to become a public health issue for this younger generation of students” said Pennington.
The research, focused on the specific health effects that resulted from consumption, was recently published in the October 2010 edition of the SAGE Journal of nursing by Pennington and nursing department colleagues Molly Johnson, Elizabeth Delaney, and Mary Beth Blankenship.
According to the article, “Energy Drinks: A New Health Hazard for Adolescents,” energy drinks were first introduced to the market in 1987. These stimulant drinks typically contain caffeine, guarana, sucrose, glucose, taurine, glucuronolactone, and B vitamins. Caffeine is the main ingredient in the drinks and the main stimulant that affects the body by jolting the central nervous system. The energizing effect comes from the caffeine’s ability to block adenosine from signaling the brain that the body needs to rest. Consuming high levels of caffeine can lead to adverse health effects such as anxiety, increased blood pressure, and an accelerated heart rate.
Parents, teachers, pediatricians and school nurses are reporting the ill-health effects energy drinks are having on the age group Pennington targeted in her study. What started out as a quick caffeine boost has now escalated to jitteriness, nervousness, dizziness, the inability to focus, difficulty concentrating, gastrointestinal upset and insomnia, according to Pennington’s research. The energy drinks may seem harmless, but if consumed in high amounts or combined with alcohol, they can quickly turn dangerous.
For example, this year, nine students at Central Washington University and 23 students at the Mahwah New Jersey campus were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning (one nearly died) after drinking the brand Four Loko, a 12% alcohol based energy drink. The caffeine masks the intoxicating effects that would normally trigger the body to pass out. Students are alert but more intoxicated, resulting in students drinking more than they normally would.
The article states that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does recommend that beverages contain no more than 65 mg of caffeine for 12 ounces. Most soft drinks fall into this suggested limit; however, energy drinks contain much higher amounts of caffeine are not required to have labeling that discloses the amount of caffeine because they are marketed as dietary supplements rather than beverages. The FDA does not have the authority to require warning labels on the drinks. It is up to the manufacturer to ensure the product is safe.
Pennington believes it is important for students to know the effects the drinks can have.
“Education is the answer to reach students at an early age,” Pennington said. “Just as we have educated our children on the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, we now need to educate them on the negative health effects of energy drinks.”
Pennington is in the process of designing an evidence-based change project to increase adolescents’ knowledge of the dangers of energy drinks. She plans to meet with local middle schools and high schools in Appalachian Ohio and Kentucky to educate students on this important topic.