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Energy drinks can lead to anxiety and depression in children, study says

Energy drinks have been linked to mental health problems in numerous studies. (Getty Images)
Energy drinks have been linked to mental health problems in numerous studies. (Getty Images)

Researchers have called for a restriction on energy drink sales to children, after a review has found that the drinks can be linked to anxiety, stress, and even suicide.

The review, published in the journal Public Health, looked at 57 studies to determine these results, and found that many studies also report a strong association between energy drink consumption, smoking, alcohol use, and binge drinking.

‘Delinquent’ behaviours was also listed as a correlation of energy drink consumption, and other psychological effects noted included distress and depression. It also found that consumption of energy drinks can lead to insulin resistance and tooth erosion.

Dr Amelia Lake, professor of public health nutrition at Teesside University and one of the authors of the review, tells Yahoo UK that the possible reason for the link between energy drinks and adverse health effects could be caffeine.

"The plausible mechanism for the health and behavioural effects of energy drinks is through caffeine which in combination with the other ingredients – also with stimulant properties –- may impact overall health," she explains.

A boy drinking a beverage can
Peer pressure is one reason behind the popularity of energy drinks. (Getty Images)

She added that the reason why she believes energy drinks are so popular among young people is due to the taste and ‘energy seeking’ element to them.

"Additionally there is a lot of social and peer influence around these drinks. Evidence points to price, ease of access, branding and marketing," Dr Lake adds.

Boys were found to drink more energy drinks than girls, and a separate study from 2022 found that up to a third of British children consume energy drinks every week.

Following the review, 40 health organisations have penned a letter to Health Secretary Victoria Atkins to call for further restrictions on energy drink sales. Prior to this, many supermarkets had voluntarily placed a ban on sales of energy drinks to kids under the age of 16.

"Many of these drinks contain high amounts of caffeine, as much as between 160-200mg per can in some cases, which is double the amount found in an average cup of coffee (about 80mg depending on the strength)," the letter said.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), children should not exceed a daily caffeine intake of 3mg per kilogram of bodyweight, which equates to 90mg for a 10-year-old weighing 30kg.

Little girl drinking from a soda can in a public park.
Kids should consume no more than 100mg of caffeine per day. (Getty Images)

"High caffeine content poses very real health risks, especially for growing brains and bodies," clinical social worker and behaviour therapist, Jennie Lannette Bedsworth, says.

"The stimulant effects of caffeine can temporarily boost concentration and athletic performance. But chronic intake is linked to poor sleep, anxiety, depression, and even self-harm behaviors in youth. This is because caffeine alters key stress hormones and neurotransmitters during critical development stages."

She added that currently guidelines advise school-aged children to consume no more than 100mg of caffeine daily, which is less than a standard energy drink.

"Exceeding this can negatively impact behavioral regulation, lifestyle behaviors, and mental health. The crash after the initial rush also reduces overall productivity," Bedsworth explains.

"While the odd green tea is fine, I counsel parents to strictly limit or eliminate energy drinks and shots. The ‘energy’ comes at too high a cost, when rest, nutrition and offline downtime better support child wellbeing. Peer pressure is real, but health is too precious. Let’s equip kids to make wise choices and model self-care over quick fixes ourselves."

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