Kids and Energy Drinks – 3 Things Every Parent Should Know

How concerned do parents need to be about kids and energy drinks?

So your teenager wants to drink Red Bull…what do you do? What do you tell your kids about energy drinks, and how alarmed should you be, really? Don’t let the headlines fool you, the use of energy drinks in kids and teens is NOT as dire as it seems. But that doesn’t mean everything is fine, either. 

In the GreenEyedGuide guest blog on The Scientific Parent, we review the three major details parents need to know about kids and energy drinks. These details are almost always left out of energy drink conversations but they can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping your kids healthy and safe.

[Editor’s Note – The Scientific Parent site is no longer operational, but it’s been updated and republished for you here, on the GreenEyedGuide blog]

Sci Parent
The following was originally published at

It appears so often in the news, “Energy Drink Consumption on the Rise in Kids, Teens.” Alarming headlines like this are a response to a study which measured caffeine consumption in minors over a ten year period. That study, published in Pediatrics in February 2014[i], shows how caffeine habits changed from 1999 to 2010. Unfortunately, this is just one of the latest examples of how the wrong details are emphasized in energy drink news stories, even in publications as reputable as Time magazine[ii].

There are three major details often left out of conversations on kids and energy drinks, but these tiny details could dramatically boost our efforts to keep ourselves and our kids healthy and safe.

headlines about kids and energy drinks - perhaps a bit overdramatic for the clicks
Headlines like these make the situation seem far worse than it actually is.

Don’t Let the Headlines Fool You – The Situation with Kids and Energy Drinks is NOT As Bad as It Seems

Taking a closer look at the Pediatrics study, it’s not surprising energy drink consumption among minors has increased since 1999 – Monster Energy and Rockstar didn’t exist back then! What is surprising is how the total amount of caffeine consumed per day didn’t change after the energy­ drink boom.

The kids of 2010 were getting the same amount of caffeine per day as the kids of 1999, they were just getting it from different places.

Of all the caffeine consumers under 18, less than 10% get their caffeine from energy drinks. That statistic may seem low, especially considering all the negative press energy drinks have received and all the scrutiny energy drink companies are facing for whether or not they target minors. However, this statistic comes from the study in Pediatrics as well as a more comprehensive study by Penn State published in Food and Chemical Toxicology[iii].

diagram showing where kids get their caffeine - kids and energy drinks on the GreenEyedGuide blog
7/10 teens get their caffeine from soda; 3/10 get it from coffee; 5/10 get it from tea; 1/10 get it from energy drinks

The Penn State study included over 40,000 participants, selected so the demographics of the study match that of the US population, thus the data reflects the nation’s caffeine habits.

The data indicates 85% of the US population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage a day. Carbonated soft drinks contribute the most caffeine to the daily diet from age 2 to 17, at which point coffee becomes the number one source of caffeine.

This study confirmed:

  • ~10% of teens get their caffeine from energy drinks
  • ~70% from each age group get their caffeine from carbonated soft drinks
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics[iv] says those < 18 years old should not have more than 100 mg caffeine
  • Teens who do use energy drinks consume ~60 mg caffeine per day, which is less than the 100 mg limit
  • For kids and teens, the total amount of caffeine (from all sources) is less than 100 mg caffeine
spectrum of energy drinks
Would you ban V8 Energy and Bai Antioxidant Beverage? They have as much caffeine as an 8 oz Red Bull, ~80 mg caffeine.

Energy Drink Bans Don’t Address All The Places Kids Get Caffeine

Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar are the three best-selling energy drinks, but there are now over 500 different energy drinks on the US market. The most common ingredient is not caffeine, it’s vitamin B-12[v]. As more consumers demand clean labels and natural forms of caffeine (think green tea and goji berries), it’s getting harder to tell the difference between energy drinks and functional/wellness beverages.

These blurred lines also make it harder to say “no” to energy drinks. Would you get mad if your kid brought home a V8 V-Fusion? How about a Red Bull? Surprise – Red Bull and V-Fusion + Energy both have 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8ounce can[vi]. Should we ban them both? What about coffee? A Grande coffee from Starbucks has more caffeine than a whole 16 ounce can of Monster Energy[vii]. Any bans on energy drinks are doomed to fail with the coffee-energy drink double standard and the blurred lines between beverage categories.

Health Canada’s brilliant solution to these blurred lines was to reclassify any and all caffeine-containing products as “food” and cap the amount of permitted caffeine from all sources at 180 milligrams per 8 ounces, or 400 milligrams per liter[viii]. Stealing a page from Health Canada’s playbook could help us close the loopholes of potential energy drink bans, and might even help us control the amount of caffeine added to food like chips, gum, and jelly beans.

The difference between poison and medicine is the dosage. – Paraphrasing Paracelsus

Ingredient Information and Dosage Details Make All the Difference

Most information on energy drink ingredients is either over-simplified (“vitamin B6 gives the body energy”) or too scientific (“thiamin becomes the coenzyme thiamin pyrophosphate and…”). To make smarter decisions about whether an energy drink is safe or not, we need to understand what key ingredients do. But understanding their function is not enough, we also need to ask about the dosage.

Paracelsus, the “Father of Toxicology”, proclaimed the difference between poison and medicine is the dosage. Too much vitamin B6 can damage the nerves. Taurine is an ingredient most people associate with energy drinks (and the myth about bull sperm). In fact, taurine helps balance the levels of calcium inside the heart muscle cells, which is why it’s a common treatment for congestive heart failure[ix].

As consumers, we need to be proactive about finding the amounts of the ingredients in our caffeinated beverages.

  • A canned coffee drink with “Organic” and “All-Natural” may seem healthy, but it’s not a good choice if it has 60 grams of sugar.
  • An all-natural energy drink with only 5 ingredients is still not a good option if the caffeine amount is more than 200 mg.
  • When someone is hospitalized due to caffeine or energy drinks, it’s critical to know the amounts of the other ingredients so scientists can better understand whether it’s just the caffeine or some ingredient interaction which made the person ill.

Bottom Line

As a community, we can truly improve our health and keep our kids safe from caffeine toxicity when we pay attention to these details. It’s misleading to say, “Energy drinks are dangerous; avoid them all.” With this blanket statement, we are ignoring the question our kids want to know the most: WHY. By focusing on these three important but often overlooked details, we teach ourselves and our kids the tools for making informed choices and can skip or sip caffeine, safely.


[i] Branum, A., Rossen, L., & Schoendorf, K. (2014). Trends in Caffeine Intake Among US Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 133(3), 386-393.

[ii] Sifferlin, A. (2015, July). Energy Drinks Have Doctors Worried. Time, The Answers Issue, 22-23.

[iii] Mitchell, D., Knight, C., Hockenberry, J., Teplansky, R., & Hartman, T. (2014). Beverage caffeine intakes in the U.S. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 63, 136-142.

[iv]  Torpy JM, Livingston EH. (2013). Energy Drinks. JAMA, 309(3), 297.

[v] Caffeine Informer Staff. (2013, updated 2015, May 13). Energy Drink Ingredients and What They Do.

[vi] Caffeine Informer Staff. Content of Drinks.

[vii] Caffeine Informer Staff. (2010, updated 2014, Sept 11). The Coffee and Energy Drink Double Standard.

[viii]  Link, C. (2013, January 2). Health Canada caps caffeine in energy drinks, 28 companies forced to reformulate.

[ix] Robertson, D. (2013). Are you a monster or a rock star: A guide to energy drinks: How they work, why they work, how to use them safely. S.l.: 

Love this info? Want to learn more?

I’ve researched the science and safety behind energy drinks and their ingredients since 2003. This book is the culmination of my research:

Science Behind Red Bull Total Zero Cherry and Orange

It’s an energy drink so powerful, just looking at it will get you pumped.

I always get excited when I come across a new energy drink, but when it’s by a company I have never heard of, that excitement is interwoven with suspicion and hesitancy. Though I am cautiously optimistic by nature, I am a scientist; I am trained to ask several questions before I form an opinion. All that hesitancy flies out the door when it comes to new flavors from a brand I know and trust. In this case, I didn’t even have to open the can to feel hyper.

The Energy Drink of the Month for March 2015 is a tie between Red Bull Total Zero Cherry and Orange Editions.


ONE—Red Bull is Number One

One of the major reasons Red Bull deserves to be the energy drink of the month is that March is Caffeine Awareness Month. Did you know that Red Bull is the number one selling brand of energy drinks? Did you know that its caffeine content is less than the second and third top-selling brands? Compare Red Bull’s 80 milligrams per 8.4 ounce can with Monster’s 140-160mg/16oz and Rockstar’s 160-240mg/16oz. Two huge benefits Red Bull has over these other two brands are its smaller size and lower caffeine content. Together, these two details make Red Bull better options for those looking to keep their caffeine content in check. Though Monster’s zero sugar versions feature about 70mg per serving, the standard size features two servings per can. This packaging decision can make many consumers feel obligated to consume the whole thing, which can lead to caffeine over-consumption.

TWO—Bull, meet Elephant (in the Room)

What do Red Bull and March have in common? They both involve heavy consumption of alcohol. Another reason Red Bull deserves to be Energy Drink of THIS particular month is that St. Patrick’s Day is associated with copious amounts of alcohol. The same can be said for Red Bull.

It’s hard to deny that drinks like Vodka Red Bull are partially responsible for Red Bull’s amazing sales figures. An excerpt from Caffeine Informer’s article “Alcohol and Energy Drinks: The Dangers of Mixing” summarizes why this combination is such a bad idea:

A study out of Wake Forest Medical Center has been looking into this energy drink mixed with alcohol fad in order to see what negative effects it has created. The study revealed the following;

  • Students who drank the mix were likely to become more intoxicated and become intoxicated twice as often.
  • Students were twice as likely to be injured on this concoction.
  • They were twice as likely to ride with a drunken driver.
  • They were also twice as likely to be taken advantage of sexually or take advantage of someone else.

The researchers believe that the high doses of caffeine mask your body’s natural ways of letting you know you’ve consumed too much alcohol, therefore, people tend to drink way more than they should.

Every good bartender knows giving caffeine to a drunk just makes them a wide-awake drunk, not any less impaired (or annoying). Your body has a built-in safety mechanism: when you’ve had too much to drink, you pass out. This is the body’s way of saying, “You’ve had ENOUGH!” When you throw caffeine in the mix, you bypass this safety mechanism and can literally drink yourself to death. Part of Caffeine Awareness Month is knowing when NOT to have caffeine.

For some, the strongest disincentive to combine alcohol and caffeine is that it impairs the reflexes as much as non-caffeinated alcohol would, but the caffeine masks the fun parts of being tipsy– the dizziness, the giggle-fits, the false sense of confidence, etc. In other words, combining caffeine and alcohol is a waste of alcohol (and caffeine!).

THREE—Inspiration from Rags to Riches and Wi-ings

Though there are plenty of great stories behind other energy drink brands, the story behind Red Bull’s creator is one I relish. Chaleo Yoovidhya was born into poverty but died in March 2012 as the third-richest man in Thailand. As the co-creator of Red Bull, his rise to success brings new meaning to the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”. As we approach “Bonus Season” and “Tax-Refund Season”, some people start thinking about their financial situation and how to change it. This month of financial re-calibration is a great time to think about the man who co-created Red Bull, and his escape from poverty.


While Red Bull does not have the cleanest, most natural ingredient line like some of the other Energy Drink of the Month picks, Red Bull is the best pick for Caffeine Awareness Month. Its size and caffeine content make it a better option than some of the other popular energy drinks, as long as it is never, ever, EVER combined with alcohol.

— GreenEyedGuide

Related Reading and Other Links

For more caffeine and energy drink information, don’t forget to find your copy of

ARE YOU A MONSTER OR A ROCK STAR? A Guide to Energy Drinks – How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely

Energy drinks explained: ingredients, safety tips, and consumption tricks.