Daphne, Ala. — A new study by a United States Sports Academy alumnus indicates that the younger a person begins consuming energy drinks, the more likely that person is to binge on the drinks later in life, compounding the health risks associated with the product.

The study, which involved personnel in the U.S. Navy, advises that new information being learned about the impact of adolescent consumption of energy drinks should be used in developing effective prevention and intervention programs beneficial to the military and the general population.

The study was conducted by U.S. Navy Cmdr. Dr. Thomas E. Sather, department head for Education and Training Requirements and Oversight at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Falls Church, Va. Sather’s study surveyed 239 U.S. naval aviator and flight officer candidates to determine various measures of energy drink consumption. The study was published Dec. 4, 2015, in the journal Addictive Behaviors Reports.

Sather’s study looked at the age of first consumption and later incidences of binge consumption within the past year, defined as four or more 8 ounce energy drinks during a single occasion. One energy drink serving was defined as either a two ounce energy shot or eight ounce energy drink, typically containing caffeine concentrations ranging from 75 to 500 mg.

Sather’s study found that people in his test group who began using energy drinks between the ages of 13 through 16 years were nearly five times more likely to consume high quantities of energy drinks during a single occasion when compared to those who started consuming energy drinks between the ages of 20 and 23 years. Likewise, persons who began to consume energy drinks between the ages of 13 and 16 years were 2.5 times more likely to consume high quantities of energy drinks during a single occasion than those who started between the ages of 17 and 19 years. There was no difference in binge behavior when comparing the 17-19 year group and the 20-23 year group.

The study concluded that a lower age of first energy drink consumption suggests higher risk of single-occasion heavy episodic or binge drinking later in life. The study urged that researchers further explore the relationship of early onset energy drink consumption and potential future health risks.

“Overuse of energy drinks has been identified as a public health risk,” Sather said. “Energy drink abuse among teens increases the risk of experiencing a cardiac event especially in those persons with underlying heart conditions. There are cases where energy drinks have been associated with changes in the heart rhythms in teenagers even with healthy hearts. This risk increases when the person engages in sports or exercise.

“This research suggests that we need to focus prevention and intervention efforts on people who started consuming energy drinks early in life,” Sather added.

“I think that at this point, education is a better tool than passing legislation or regulations and parents and teens need to be informed about what these drinks can do to us in the short as well as the long term. I don’t believe any parent would knowingly give their child something that could cause them a long term ailment or disability, but these products are so new that we have no idea what they are doing to our kids.

“This study really represents the canary in the coalmine,” he added. “Future study will give us better information with which to predict and deal with the problem of energy drink abuse and by extension even some illicit drug use. There is some research that suggests energy drinks may be related to depression, and even may permanently alter brain chemistry in developing individuals predisposing them to be more inclined to become addicted to drugs like cocaine as adults.”

According to the study, energy drink abuse has evolved as a public health concern as numerous surveys have indicated high usage of the drinks among adolescents, with some studies indicating that as many as 62 percent of adolescents use the products at least once per year. The American Association of Poison Control Centers annual report for 2013 reflected 1,685 reported cases of overdose from energy drinks, 368 of which required treatment at a hospital.

To date, the U.S. has not regulated energy drink production or sales despite growing concern among public health researchers and practitioners. The study notes that at the center of the concern are the health risks associated with unregulated herbal ingredients, high amounts of caffeine, and inadequate or inaccurate labeling.

While consumption frequency is concerning, another concern is the quantity consumed during a single occasion, the study says. Given that energy drinks are served cold, are sweet, and come enhanced with high levels of caffeine, energy drinks may pose a serious risk to consumers who drink these beverages akin to other soft drinks.

According to the study, consuming multiple energy drinks over a short period as brief as only a few hours may cause caffeine intoxication resulting in heart palpitations, hypertension, nausea and vomiting, convulsions, psychosis, and in some rare cases, even death. Research suggests that energy drinks may be linked to other substance use problems.

Sather said the military’s interest in the research relates to the potential impact of energy drinks on personnel, especially in highly complicated roles, and developing strategies to reduce the risk.

“Caffeine intoxication is definitely something you don’t want in a pilot or any other highly skilled military personnel,” Sather said.

Sather holds two degrees from the United States Sports Academy: the Master of Sports Science in sports fitness management and sports medicine (1996) and the Doctorate of Education in sports fitness management with a concentration in leadership (2015).

“As a two-time graduate of the United States Sports Academy, I can rate the quality of the education as high,” Sather said.

“The greatest positive I can say about my experience at the United States Sports Academy is that the faculty made time for me and consistently mentored me through my educational journey. This mentoring not only taught me the information, but also set an example that I can and have applied in my professional life. Their examples set a great foundation for me to mentor my junior officers and to help them with their career growth.

“My educational background from the United States Sports Academy, along with my military and operational training, positioned me to serve the men and women of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps.”

Co-authors on the article included Dr. Fred J. Cromartie of the United States Sports Academy; Dr. Marion W. Evans Jr. of Mississippi State University; Dr. Ronald D. Williams Jr. of Texas State University; and Dr. Conrad L. Woolsey of the University of Western States.

Sather’s article is at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235285321530002X .

Located in Daphne, Ala., the United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, regionally accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call 251-626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.