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Experts Call For Health Warning Labels on Energy Drinks

Energy drinks

Experts from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are calling for health warning labels on "energy drinks" due to their high caffeine content that may pose a risk to adolescents and young adults. A single serving of some of these energy drinks can contain more than 500 mg of caffeine, an amount equal to 14 cans of Coca Cola.

The high caffeine count can cause heart palpitations, anxiety and tremors even for people who drink coffee. Because the amount of caffeine is often not labeled, there is variability between the energy drinks and people don't know what to expect. In a 2007 survey of 496 college students, 51% reported consuming at least 1 energy drink during the past month. Of these energy-drink users, 29% reported "weekly jolt-and-crash" episodes and 19% reported heart palpitations from consuming these beverages. The researchers want these energy drinks to have warning labels that clearly state the amount of caffeine a consumer gets.

Young adults and college students often combine energy drinks and alcohol and it is a common recreational practice. Bars stock "Red Bull" and other energy drinks and young adults pay for "Table Service" where they secure a party table at a club, stocked with champagne, vodka, other spirits and energy drinks.

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The caffeine from the energy drink not only potentiates the alcohol effects, but the drinker can consume more over a period of time. The natural sedating effect of alcohol is countered by the excessive caffeine and sugar in the energy drink, masking the effects of alcohol.

There is an additional negative effect from the marketing of energy drinks to youths.

We are giving very mixed messages to our kids when they can buy an energy drink called "Blow" which is sold in vials and the energy drink "Cocaine" that mimics illicit drugs. The Cocaine website shows Christina Aguilera singing the national anthem (patriotic cocaine?) and it encourages kids to "Rock the Vote". It appears very mainstream and grown-up and urges the user to get a “massive jolt”

The recommended health warning labels on energy drinks may not be effective in deterring people who want a legal stimulant. But like warnings on cigarettes, over time, the message may sink in. At the very least parents should know what is out there and be educating kids at an early age about health and making right choices.