Australian academics warn that young adolescents can easily identify energy drinks brands such as Red Bull or Monster, but are unaware of key ingredients including caffeine, guarana and taurine, and in comments that should serve as a wake-up call for brands, suggest that regulations, labeling and advertising rules be tightened.
Beth Costa led the Deakin University School of Psychology focus group study, 'Young Adolescents’ Perceptions, Patterns, and Contexts of Energy Drink Use', and examined the "perceptions, patterns and contexts” of energy drink use among 40 adolescents aged 12-15 from two regional Australian schools.
In their findings, the Deakin University team said that young adolescents may use energy drinks “in a manner similar to older individuals without knowing what they are drinking and how they contribute to their personal risk of harm.”
They suggest looking at the influence of energy drinks' advertising, their appropriate labeling, and regulated sale as risk-associated products.
"Possible recommendations include restricting the sale of energy drinks to people under the age of 18, introducing clearer labeling of risk of harm to children and adolescents, as well as regulating energy drink advertisements targeting children and adolescents," Costa et al. write.
The study found that adolescents could identify energy drink brands such as Red Bull and Monster, but in many cases were unaware of key ingredients such as caffeine, glucose, guarana, taurine, and glucuronolactone.
"Participants were familiar with energy drinks and most had used them at least once but had limited knowledge of energy drink ingredients," Costa et al. wrote.
While most kids could easily identify energy drinks by brand name, there was also “some confusion particularly among the younger participants about the differences between energy drinks and other drinks.”
“These findings suggest young adolescents use energy drinks without knowing what they are drinking and how they are contributing to their personal risk of harm," Costa et al. wrote. "The advertising, appeal and use of energy drinks by adolescents appears to share similarities with alcohol and tobacco," they added.
Parents and advertising
The study, published in the journal Appetite, found that energy drink use was influenced by parenting and advertising, which "associated energy drinks with high-risk extreme behaviors that appeal to youth through non-traditional mediums (such as social media) adolescents frequently use."
Parents also "appeared to play a key role in influencing participants' use or disuse of energy drinks," the team wrote.
For younger participants, parental disapproval “appeared to prevent them from using energy drinks, while some of the older participants reported using energy drinks despite parental disapproval."
“In other cases, participants indicated that their parents condoned or encouraged their use of energy drinks at times, particularly when consumption had the functional aim of alleviating fatigue for sport and recreation," the study added.
Based on the findings of their study, the Deakin University researchers suggest tightening up regulations surrounding the availability, labeling and advertisement of energy drinks.
“The long-term harms of alcohol use by youth have only recently been adequately identified after more than 100 years of research," Costa et al. wrote. "There is a strong case for adopting the precautionary principle when it comes to young people’s health."
Source: Appetite, Available online May 20 2014, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.05.013
Title: 'Young adolescents’ perceptions, patterns, and contexts of energy drink use: a focus group study'
Authors: Costa, B. Hayley, A., Miller, P.
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