HALIFAX – Halifax teenagers say they will take to heart the findings of a study linking energy drinks to mental health issues, substance use and sensation-seeking behaviour.
In the study of more than 8,200 high school students in Atlantic Canada, researchers at the University of Waterloo and Dalhousie University in Halifax found about two-thirds of respondents reported consuming an energy drink in the previous year.
“We also found something very interesting,” said principal investigator Sunday Azagba, a researcher at the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo in southwestern Ontario.
“The more intense users tend to be more likely to be depressed, they’re more likely to have substance use,” he said, referring to alcohol and marijuana.
Sensation seeking — taking part in novel activities that provide excitement — was also higher among those who reported consuming energy drinks compared to those who don’t imbibe the caffeine-charged drinks, the researchers found.
Taylor Wry, 14, said she doesn’t like energy drinks.
“I never will. They’re not good for anything,” she said.
Wry, who is also an athlete, said she does not plan to try them after hearing about the study. She said her drink of choice is often just water.
Other teenagers who consume energy drinks on occasion say they see the effects it can have on others.
Landon Meredith, 16, said he used to drink Red Bull and Monster, but stopped because the drinks were making him feel sick.
“Sometimes I get slight headaches, a slight sickness feeling,” he said.
He said he wasn’t shocked to hear of the potential for adverse effects.
“It’s not really surprising. If it is affecting the happiness of some people, it would be a good thing to not drink them,” he said.
Teens Kirea Flint, 16, and Ocean Derouchie, 17, said they often see their friends overindulge in energy drinks.
“They drink and they smoke and they’re just adding another substance to it.”
“Friends of mine who abuse them and drink too much. I can see the repercussions of that being sad and not having energy anymore because you’re burnt out,” said Derouchie.
Researchers said they are still trying to better understand the link.
“While it remains unclear why these associations exist, the trend is a concern because of the high rate of consumption among teenagers,” said Azagba.
“These drinks appeal to young people because of their temporary benefits like increased alertness, improved mood and enhanced mental and physical energy.”
Doctors Nova Scotia says the study is more proof something needs to be done to protect teens against energy drinks.
Kevin Chapman, the organization’s director of health policy, wants legislation to restrict the sale of energy drinks to people younger than 19.
“Over half of Grade 7 students are drinking energy drinks. I think that gives us pause for concern,” he said.
He said now is the ideal time to take action.
“We know youth are consuming energy drinks in increasing numbers. They’re everywhere. You can’t go in a corner store anymore without seeing energy drinks.”
Chapman suggests parents talk to their children about alternatives to energy drinks, such as going outside and exercising.
“Those are healthy ways to stimulate your body and stay alert. You don’t need to drink several energy drinks to stimulate yourself,” he said.
The Canadian Beverage Association (CBA), which represents most manufacturers of non-alcoholic beverages in Canada, said the study findings reflect a link of association, not one of causality — something the researchers themselves admit.
“The use levels reported by the researchers reinforce the fact that the vast majority of teens, over 80 per cent, rarely or never consume energy drinks,” the association said in statement.
“Further, there is no evidence — here or anywhere else — to indicate that the consumption of energy drinks in any way led to substance abuse or to the sort of behaviour associated with substance abuse.”
The CBA noted that energy drinks are regulated in Canada and have a capped caffeine content, and that “contrary to the misperception perpetuated by this paper, most mainstream energy drinks contain only about half the amount of caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee.”