In 2006, almost 500 new brands of energy drinks were released worldwide. The energy drink industry is booming, with sales of energy drinks estimated to be over 12.5 billion USD in 2012, an increase of 60% from 2008 to 2012 (2). Energy drinks are relatively new to the wider soft drinks market, with the first energy drink launched in Japan in 1960. Energy drinks first appeared in Europe in 1987 before quickly expanding throughout the rest of Europe and appearing in the US in 1997. While no standard definition of an “energy drink” is used in the scientific literature, it is commonly understood to be a non-alcoholic drink that contains caffeine (usually its main ingredient), taurine, vitamins, and sometimes a combination of other ingredients (such as guarana and ginseng, among others), marketed for its perceived or actual benefits as a stimulant, for improving performance and for increasing energy.
Although energy drinks are a relatively new class of beverage, they are quickly becoming as a central part of the partying subculture, particularly among young people who commonly mix energy drinks with alcohol (3–7). The full impact of the rise in popularity of energy drinks has not yet been quantified, but the aggressive marketing of energy drinks targeted at young people combined with limited and varied regulation has created an environment where energy drinks could pose a significant threat to public health.
In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) commissioned a study to gather consumption data for energy drinks in 16 countries of the European Union. They found that 68% of adolescents (aged 10–18 years old), 30% of adults, and 18% of children (<10 years old) consumed energy drinks. Among adolescents, consumption varied from 48% in Greece to 82% in the Czech Republic. Among children, consumption varied from 6% in Hungary to 40% in the Czech Republic. The average consumption was 2 l in adolescents and 0.49 l in children.
With increasing consumption and an increase in the number of reported cases of adverse health effects associated with energy drink consumption, concerns have been raised both in the scientific community and among the general public about the health impact of these products. Despite this, there have been limited rigorous studies carried out in Europe on the risks associated with the increase in energy drink consumption, particularly among young people. The adverse health effects related to energy drink consumption and over-consumption are still highly debated from a scientific point of view, and this paper sets out to review the available literature on the associated health risks and policies related to energy drinks.