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Could Energy Drinks Be Wrong Choice for Some Teens?

Unhealthy behaviors may be more common in those who consume the beverages, research suggests

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Regular consumers of energy drinks weren't more likely to exercise or play sports than kids who rarely drank the caffeinated beverages. But, they spent significantly more time playing video games. Boys who drank energy drinks averaged about four more hours of video game play weekly, while girls who drank energy drinks played about two more hours each week than occasional users.

Regular energy drink users consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages, and girls who regularly drank energy drinks were more likely to skip breakfast than girls who rarely or never drank them. Regular users of both sexes were more likely to have ever tried cigarettes, the study authors said.

"Energy drinks really don't offer any benefits for teens, and they create a risk for overstimulation of the nervous system. There have been studies linking energy drink consumption in kids this age to seizures, irregular heart rhythms and in rare, cases death," Larson said. "So if parents see some empty cans lying around, that might be a good time to encourage some more positive beverage options."

The American Beverage Association (ABA), which represents beverage manufacturers, said the study has a significant limitation.

"It's important to note that this research, which looks at association only, in no way shows that energy or sports drink consumption in any population causes 'negative' behaviors," said Maureen Beach, director of communications for the ABA.

But some feel the patterns noted in the study are concerning.

"If you think about even 10 years ago, kids didn't really consume high doses of caffeine like they do today. That has changed, and we don't really know the implications of that," Marczinski said.

High doses of caffeine in energy drinks may prompt the brain to look for other kinds of stimulants, either sugar or stronger kinds of stimulants, according to Marczinski.

"That's what the pattern of data is suggesting. You get sensitized on high doses of caffeine and suddenly other stimulants like nicotine from cigarettes are perhaps more appealing," she said.

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