The marketing of energy drinks is highly aggressive and targeted at teens.

Dr. Jane Shearer

Dr. Jane Shearer is an associate professor in the faculty of kinesiology at the University of Calgary. (Submitted by Dr. Jane Shearer)

Dr. Jane Shearer has seen this first-hand.

"My eight-year-old daughter was handed a Red Bull energy drink at the Calgary Stampede. Things like that are not OK," said the associate professor and diabetes researcher at the University of Calgary.

Her argument is based on what she discovered while researching the effect caffeine-spiked energy drink "shots" have on teenagers.

Energy 'shots' and insulin resistance

The Alberta Children's Hospital study looked at a group of 13- to 19-year-olds.

Ten male and 10 female participants, with no history of chronic medical conditions affecting glucose tolerance, were given a shot of the caffeinated or decaffeinated 5-Hour Energy.

Both drinks are sugar-free.

Forty minutes later the entire group was given a high dose of calories in the form or sugar.

Test results showed that glucose and insulin levels spiked about 25 per cent in the group that drank the caffeinated shot. Meaning, they were not able to metabolise sugar as well as those that had the decaf version.

Shearer says the shots are essentially causing short-term insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for many metabolic diseases — especially if there is a family history.

"So if you have a teenager consuming two of these drinks a day and they are susceptible for Type 2 diabetes… Having this dietary habit may promote or accelerate that disease process."

Not like coffee

Shearer says it's important to note that energy shots do not contain the same kind of caffeine as coffee.

"Coffee is plant-based," she said.

"The energy drink is very different in that it's lacking the plant-based compound. And the caffeine that's linked to energy drink is the drug format of caffeine."

North Americans get about 70 per cent of their daily antioxidants from coffee, which actually reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes, says Shearer.

Energy drink education

The small drinks are available at most Canadian grocery and convenience stores — making them accessible to youth.

"We know that about approximately 30 per cent of teens consume energy drinks … We know that about 50 per cent of college-age athletes in Alberta consume energy drinks," said Shearer.


She says parents need to educate their children about the health risks surrounding these drinks.

A 2010 Health Canada report recommended government take the reins on this by working with school boards and using social media to get the message out to teens.

However, Shearer says government also needs to bring in better legislation that forces energy drink companies to tighten up the language on packaging. 

"On the back they say these products are not for children.… We need to state an age on there because if you ask a teen if they're a child — chances are you're going to hear no."