It gives you wings: med students say energy drinks are little helpers

Medical students survey finds 68% consume energy drinks, one-third of which started as early as 11 years of age

A survey of 305 medical students and foundation doctors has found that 68% consume energy drinks
A survey of 305 medical students and foundation doctors has found that 68% consume energy drinks

Let a medical student tell you what an energy drink is for: partying, and studying.

A survey of 305 medical students and foundation doctors has found that 68% consume energy drinks, one-third of which started as early as 11 years of age.

The study, published in the Medical School Gazette, says the most common reasons for drinking energy drinks were for mixing with alcohol (37.5%) and during studying and major projects (30.8%).

Noting that participants reported an increase in the consumption of energy drinks around the times of exams and increased studying, the study says educational bodies should “investigate ways in which to help students cope with the pressures of course work in a safer manner.”

Your people facing long hours of study and pressure related to exams may be attracted by manufacturers’ claims that energy drinks are the ultimate study aid, “boosting energy, promoting wakefulness, increasing attention span and heightening intellect.”

Furthermore, since energy drinks are unregulated and sold alongside ordinary soft drinks, their accessibility may be another attractive feature.

When asked if they felt that the consumption of energy drinks had influenced their examination results, 48% of participants felt that they had made no impact on the results, 34% were unsure, and 17% claimed they had indeed positively influenced their examination results.

Only 2% stated that they felt that the consumption of these drinks had a negative impact on their examinations.

Men are more likely to drink energy drinks than women (82.3% of males as opposed to 58.6% of females).

The most preferred brand of energy drink consumed was Red Bull which contains 80mg of caffeine per 250ml (87%). More than half of the participants (63%) stated that their first consumption was in the context of a social setting.

Energy drinks is a collective term applied to a vast array of caffeinated soft drinks that invariably claim to boost performance, stamina and endurance.

Participants who consume energy drinks were more likely to also drink coffee (85.1%), alcohol (88%) and smoke tobacco (18.3%). The majority of the participants (52%) experience psychological side effects due to energy drinks, the most common being stimulating/hyperactivity (42.6%), followed by anxiety (14.8%).

Over half of the participants (54.8%) claimed to suffer from physical side effects. Whilst some studies have shown that caffeine has an enhancing effect on mental health other research has found that anxiety, depression and behavioural problems are higher amongst consumers as opposed to non-consumers.

So far the greatest concern regarding the consumption of energy drinks is the caffeine content. This is by no means standard with some drinks containing as much caffeine as a cup of coffee (around 100mg), right up to as much as 505mg per can.   

The study shows that the most preferred brand of energy drink consumed was Red Bull.

Although previous research has found that low to moderate caffeine doses (up to 200mg), can enhance cognitive performance and mood and positively impact speed, accuracy and alertness, other studies report that excessive consumption of energy drinks may lead to negative physical effects such as gastrointestinal disturbances, cardiovascular changes, and insulin resistance.

The study concludes that there is pressing need for more informed studies to see whether there is a need for “legislative intervention and control regarding the sale of energy drinks.”

Moreover, the authors acknowledged that the research was restricted to a narrowly defined group and thus recommended a study which examines the wider population.

The study is authored by psychiatrists and mental health specialists Anton Grech, Sally Axiak and Daniel Fondocara and, statistician Lara Pace.

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