Consumption of caffeinated energy drinks rises in the U.S.

May 1, 2019

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, energy drink consumption in the United States has increased substantially over the past decade among adolescents, young adults, and middle-aged adults. Energy drink consumers had significantly higher total caffeine intake compared with non-consumers and the beverages represented a majority of their total daily caffeine.

Energy drinks are nonalcoholic beverages that contain caffeine, other plant-based stimulants (e.g., guarana), amino acids (e.g., taurine), herbs (e.g., ginkgo biloba), and vitamins. Introduced to U.S. markets in 1997, their caffeine content ranges from 50 mg to 500 mg per serving, compared to 95 mg for an eight-ounce cup of coffee.

The analysis used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a repeated cross-sectional study that is representative of the American non-institutionalized population. The study sample included data for 2003–2016 from 9,911 adolescents, 12,103 young adults, and 11,245 middle-aged adults. Because it was necessary to pool data across the seven survey cycles to ensure a sufficient analytic sample, it was only possible to examine differences in the prevalence of energy drink consumption by sex, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment category for all years combined.

From 2003 to 2016, the prevalence of energy drink consumption on a typical day increased significantly for adolescents (0.2% to 1.4%); young adults (0.5% to 5.5%); and middle-aged adults (0% to 1.2%). Per capita consumption of energy drinks increased significantly from 2003 to 2016 only for young adults (1.1 to 9.7 calories). Pooled across years, energy drink consumers had significantly higher total caffeine intake compared with non-consumers for adolescents (227 mg versus 52.1 mg); young adults (278.7 mg versus 135.3 mg); and middle-aged adults (348.8 mg versus 219 mg).

Notably, middle-aged Mexican Americans and young adults with low educational attainment were found to have the highest prevalence of energy drink consumption. “This important finding signals the need for targeted policy and programmatic efforts among these groups,” said senior author Sara N. Bleich, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Although U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require that energy drink labels indicate if the product contains caffeine, the FDA does not impose a caffeine limit or require reporting of the actual level of caffeine. While some energy drink companies are taking part in voluntary labeling initiatives, Bleich noted, “Our findings point to the need for an evidence-based upper caffeine limit and consistent labeling on these beverages to reduce the potential negative health impact on consumers.”

Study