While popular among young people across Europe, excessive consumption can have serious consequences: racing pulse, high blood pressure or heart failure. Dr. Renate Oberhoffer is committed to enlightening young consumers.
DW: How have energy drinks come to be so popular among young people?
Dr. Renate Oberhoffer: Today people want to be stylish and fast-paced, and always 100% focused. It’s precisely this effect that lifestyle drinks are marketed with.
DW: What do they actually contain, and what effect do they have?
Caffeine is the biggest element, although it’s delivered in a range of doses. Then there’s sugar or substances containing sugar, plus sometimes guarana, taurine, vitamins and other substances. The effect claimed in advertising is mainly based on the caffeine. Caffeine makes you alert and stimulates the cardiovascular system and enhances your breathing – and that’s the main effect.
DW:In a recent survey the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warns of the health risks involved in the drinks. What do they comprise?
The health risks when exceeding certain doses include high blood pressure, heart rhythm disturbances, a racing pulse and even sudden cardiac arrest. The person might alternatively lose consciousness and have a clouded perception – especially in combination with alcohol. There are now also “energy shots”, which come in smaller servings but higher concentrations and are mixed with alcohol – and whose effect is in some cases not foreseeable. Furthermore, consuming energy drinks together with alcohol bears a higher addiction potential.
DW: What do you consider to be “higher doses” for energy drinks?
There are age-oriented doses for children and teenagers. With caffeine it’s 3 mg per kg body weight – and for an adult approx. 300 mg. You also have to consider that other additives in energy drinks can lead to a further increase in the caffeine content – e.g. guarana also contains caffeine, and exact quantities are often omitted on the packaging.
DW: That could mean that children and young people shouldn’t be permitted to consume energy drinks. Do we need a sales ban?
I would first welcome an educational campaign. The possible health risks of these drinks are a relatively low-profile issue – for parents, doctors and teachers as well as young people. We especially need that education in nightlife hotspots, where these drinks are sold. The issue ought to be addressed at every health examination for young people and also in school lessons.
DW:Who can drink how much energy drink?
One or two cans are probably not harmful for adults, unless they have cardiovascular disease. If this is the case, and they take particular medication because of high blood pressure, they should first ask in light of the potential dangers. And for children and young people the limits above apply, i.e. 3 mg per kg body weight.
Prof. Renate Oberhoffer is the deputy spokeswoman for the commission on hypertension among children and youths at the German High Blood Pressure League, and also head of the department of preventive pediatric care at the Technical University of Munich.
Interview: Marita Brinkmann