Young people talk about their experiences with energy drinks

When energy fades what's your solution for a quick boost? These days, energy drinks top a lot of lists. Total sales for energy drinks and energy shots rang up more than 12 billion dollars last year. No doubt the drinks are popular. But there can be a downside.

Between 2007 and 2011, the number energy drink-related hospital visits went from 10,000 to 21,000. Now, three Democratic senators want to put age restrictions on the products; citing young people are more vulnerable to health problems associated with the drinks.

On colleges campuses you would be hard pressed to find a student who hasn't tried an energy drink at least once. In fact, many students say they began drinking them years ago as teenagers. "Probably back when I was sixteen when they started to become really popular with monster and red bull. I guess the stress of school really and I just started a new job," said one UAB student.

That's what a trio of democratic senators is concerned about. Senators Richard Durbin, Eric Markey, and Richard Blumenthal want the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the safety of energy drinks among young people.

They're also going after industry marketing strategies, trying to prevent advertising to children under eighteen. What's in an energy drink anyway?

Nutritionist Beth Kitchen is an associate professor in UAB's Nutrition Sciences Department. "Essentially what it comes down to is these are caffeinated beverages," said Kitchen.

How much caffeine are were talking? Most energy drinks have anywhere between 50 to some 200 milligrams of caffeine. Kitchen says that's roughly two cups of coffee.

"The problem is that some of them are very concentrated. So whereas you may sit and sip on a couple of cups of coffee over many hours, when you drink one of those energy shots you're getting all that caffeine all at once," said Kitchen.

Kitchen says 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine is generally a safe amount for adults. Last year, a fourteen year-old Maryland girl went into cardiac arrest and died after consuming two 24-ounce cans of Monster. That's 480 milligrams of caffeine. {} Kitchen says the key to energy drinks is moderation, and perhaps more research on how they affect young bodies. "One of the things you have to be concerned about the kids and teenagers is that they are not fully developed yet. And so we don't really know if these levels of caffeine are really safe for them," she said.

Kitchen says freedom of information is important. Companies can often mask their caffeine levels by including it as part of the drink's "energy blend".