The American Beverage Association (ABA) has savaged a US government-affiliated report linking energy drinks to a rising number of hospital emergency department (ED) visits in the country, as well as associations with sexual risk, fighting and drug misuse.
The report, from the Drug Abuse Warning Network or (Dawn) warned that trend data showed a tenfold increase in the number of emergency visits involving energy drinks between 2005 (1,128 visits) and 2008 (16,053) and 2009 (13,114).
The public health surveillance system's 2004-2009 data indicated that 77 per cent of ED visits involving energy drinks were made by patients aged 18-39, Dawn said. Adolescents aged 12-17 and adults over 40 each accounted for around 11 per cent of visits.
Dawn added that males accounted for 64 per cent of ED visits involving energy drinks, and it estimated that 56 per cent of visits concerned energy drinks alone, not accounting for combinations with pharmaceuticals, alcohol and/or illicit drugs.
The report authors noted that energy drinks were marketed to appeal to youth, and were consumed by 30 to 50 per cent of children, adolescents and young adults, with the most popular brands Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, Full Throttle and Amp.
Rising public health problem…
Noting that energy drink consumption had soared by 240 per cent from 2004 to 2009, Dawn identified the trend as a “rising public health problem, because medical and behavioural consequences can result from excessive caffeine intake”.
Citing Seifert et al. 2011 writing on energy drinks in the journal Pediatrics, the Dawn report authors said: “A growing body of scientific evidence documents harmful effects, particularly for children, adolescents and young adults.”
Amongst college students, associations had also been established between energy drink consumption and “problematic behaviours such as marijuana use, sexual risk, fighting, smoking, drinking and prescription drug misuse”, they added (Miller 2008, Thombs et al. 2010).
Thombs et al. found, DAWN said, that bar patrons who consumed alcohol mixed with energy drinks were three times more likely to intend to leave a bar highly intoxicated, and were four times more likely to intend to drive while intoxicated.
“This latter finding may be because the high levels of caffeine found in energy drinks can mask the symptoms associated with being intoxicated (e.g. feeling lethargic)," Dawn said.
“Individuals, especially youthful drinkers, may incorrectly believe that consumption of caffeine can ‘undo’ the effects of alcohol intake and make it safe to drive after drinking,” it added.
Statistics out of context
But the ABA hit back at the research paper, which it said was a “troubling example of statistics taken out of context”.
“The number of emergency visits by people who consumed energy drinks, as reported in the paper, represented less than one 1/100th of one per cent of all emergency visits,” the ABA added.
The association said that the report shared no information about the overall health of those who consumed energy drinks, or even what symptoms had brought them to ER in the first place.
“Furthermore, it shows that nearly half of those who visited the emergency room had consumed alcohol or taken illegal substances or pharmaceuticals, making their consumption of energy drinks potentially irrelevant,” the ABA added.
The full report, ‘Emergency Department Visits Involving Energy Drinks’ is available to read here.
Dawn forms part of the US Department of Health & Human Services (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), and is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related morbidity and mortality.