Friday, 15 May 2015

A call for action on energy drink consumption

SPHPM doctoral candidate Dr Genevieve Cowie and Dr Bruce Bolam from the University of Melbourne have co-authored a paper that explores various issues associated with caffeinated energy drinks and public health. They also identify opportunities for government action to alleviate the harms of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic energy drinks.

Caffeine, the main active component of energy drinks, is a psychoactive xanthine alkaloid as well as a stimulant. 50mg doses are found in a single cup of tea or half a cup of brewed coffee. This dose can cause agitation or tachycardia in people who are sensitive to caffeine. 400mg of caffeine is the threshold of caffeine toxicity in adults who are over 19 years of age and 100mg in adolescents.

Caffeine overdose can result in a range of consequences, including headaches, insomnia, stroke, arrhythmia, gastrointestinal problems and, in rare cases, death. The popularity of caffeinated energy drinks has steadily risen since it was first introduced into Australia in the early 2000’s. Sales have seen a consistent increase and are now estimated to be around $593 million.

There is a lack of general awareness surrounding the risks of excessive caffeine ingestion. Whilst there is evidence that children and youth are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, many caffeinated products are accessible to them (e.g. energy drinks, soft drinks) and parents may not know about the harms of such consumption. Processed products such as chocolate bars and cans of cola each contain caffeine - chocolate: 9-18mg and cola: 35-45mg per can. These are now sold alongside energy drinks (80-160mg) in various storefronts, increasing the risk of caffeine toxicity. This is coupled with the lack of public knowledge regarding the associated risk.

An Australian study using data from the NSW Poisons Information Centre indicated that there was a rising number of energy drink exposure and toxicity cases in the previous seven years. A worrying component to this is the mixing of alcohol into energy drinks, a popular choice with 1.8 million individuals in Australia estimated to consume these. Younger individuals are more likely to consume alcoholic energy drinks, some of them doing so in a harmful manner. The mixing of alcohol and caffeine has been linked to aggressive behaviour, injury and risk taking behaviour. Newer studies have sought to explore the association between the alcohol intake consumed with an energy drink compared to non-energy drink sessions, as well as to control for the individual’s risk-taking propensity. However, there is controversy regarding these observations, and the role that energy drink industry funding plays in related research.

The authors suggest that there needs to be a more developed policy response, given the adding of caffeine to foods, specifically energy drinks and alcoholic energy drinks. The authors have created a table with a list of possible measures to shift the use of caffeine within the community to lessen the risk; seen below. A reduction in the maximum amount of caffeine and limiting the various food products which incorporate caffeine is a possible solution to dampen the dependence of caffeine among individuals.

Furthermore, detailed packaging highlighting caffeine quantities can allow consumers to be more 
aware of the quantity of caffeine they are consuming. Stating the daily consumption of caffeine recommendations are a component of this. The current discounts and promotions of caffeinated energy drinks may also to be restricted to discourage consumers from purchasing these products. Young adolescents should also be further distanced from marketing of these products, especially within social media and the use of ‘viral marketing’. 

The authors also propose that sales of these products could be limited to only adults over the age of eighteen and only be sold at times when these will be consumed when there is little risk of over consumption. Along this vein, a time restriction after a certain hour (10pm or 1am on Friday nights) in which energy and alcoholic energy drinks can no longer be purchased from liquor stores could be introduced.

The authors conclude that the existing policies and regulations regarding energy drinks and alcoholic drinks are not adequate in raising awareness for the community on the appropriate intake of these products. Furthermore, current regulations do not shield vulnerable groups from the risks of overconsumption. Existing evidence is highlighting that there are patterns of excessive consumption which are traditionally seen in those who ‘binge’ drink. There are also a rising number of cases in which people are falling prey to caffeine poisoning. Creating stricter measures and regulations for these products are strategies to minimise these incidents.

You can read the whole article here.

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