One in three teenagers may be consuming the equivalent of 10 instant coffees a day in energy drinks that can cause insomnia, anxiety and heart problems, a leading sleep expert says.
A survey of 110 patients conducted by Chris Seaton, a paediatric sleep specialist from the Westmead Children's Hospital, found 35 per cent of teenagers consume at least two energy drinks a day.
A daily dose of caffeine should not exceed 200 to 300 milligrams, yet a 500 millilitre serving of Mother, Monster or Red Bull contains 160 milligrams of caffeine, and some teens drink three a day. ''They are getting into it before school,'' Dr Seaton said. Health professionals are calling for tighter regulations on the availability of energy drinks which, with sales of $593 million a year, make up the fastest growing beverage sector.
''Teenagers are limited in getting alcohol and tobacco, but there is no limitation on energy drinks. It's a real free-for-all,'' Dr Seaton said. ''Caffeine in high doses is a toxic substance and there has been a couple of reported teenage deaths related to an overdose.''
The high sugar content in energy drinks is just as concerning, says Jane Martin, who leads the Obesity Policy Coalition. One 500-millilitre Red Bull contains the equivalent of 13 teaspoons of sugar.
The health concerns follows a discussion paper presented to the federal government that showed energy drink consumption in Australia and New Zealand has more than quadrupled from 34.5 million litres in 2001 to 155.6 million litres in 2010.
The dangers of excessive caffeine is a ''forgotten thing'', Dr Seaton said.
An Australian study released last year also found a sharp rise in the number of people who reported heart problems, tremors and chest pains after drinking the beverages, particularly teenagers.
Close to 300 calls were made to NSW's poisons centre regarding adverse reactions to energy drinks between January 2004 and the end of 2010, with more than a third of people attending hospital, the report said.
But the peak body for non-alcoholic beverages, the Australian Beverage Council, argued energy drinks were one of the ''most regulated'' in the world, including health warning labels.
''The industry acknowledges energy drinks are a topical issue, but when viewed in the context of the total diet they represent a very small part - unlike other products like coffee,'' chief executive Geoff Parker said.