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The ups and downs of energy drinks

AAFES sales are high, but experts debate health effects of popular drinks

Servicemembers’ thirst for something with a little more oomph than a soda or cup of joe has added some kick to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s energy drink sales numbers. But, are those drinks good for you?

According to AAFES, its energy drinks sales worldwide rocketed from 954,008 containers in 2006 to 2,475,475 in 2008. The sales of sport drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade have declined from 2,372,620 containers to 2,287,917 in the same time span. Energy drinks, such as Red Bull and Monster, now account for five of the top 10 cold beverage sellers at AAFES facilities. Monster energy drinks, 16-ounce sizes, are the No. 1 seller.

"New energy drink flavors seem to evolve and innovate themselves to meet changing demands," AAFES spokesman Army Lt. Col. David Konop said via e-mail.

Although energy drinks may be healthy for AAFES’ sales figures, guzzling those drinks may not be so good for the consumer, military officials warned.

"I think there are more (health) minuses than pluses," said Todd Hoover, director of the Army Wellness Center in Heidelberg, Germany, and replication manager for Army wellness centers in Europe. "These are just empty calories because there is no nutrient value in the drinks."

High caffeine and other ingredients that have the same properties are part of the problem with the drinks, Hoover said.

A 2006 study in the Analytical Journal of Toxicology showed that energy drinks contain up to 141 milligrams of caffeine per serving, compared to 65 to 120 milligrams for coffee and 20 to 40 milligrams for soda.

Hoover said it is unclear what the long-term health effects are of energy drinks because there haven’t been any legitimate studies on the subject. But he said he is concerned about how popular these drinks are becoming — especially downrange.

Energy drink consumption is widespread downrange, where troops are taking coolers full of the drinks with them before they go out on missions and using them to stay awake, Hoover said. He said witnessing that after a recent trip to the Middle East was an eye-opening experience.

But some studies have shown that the drinks are good at improving reaction times, feelings of well-being and energy, Europe Regional Medical Command officials said. Studies have also shown that consuming energy drinks may cause an increased heart rate, nausea, restlessness and tremors.

Dentists worry about the sugar levels.

"Any drink that has a high sugar content, which a lot of these drinks do, could lead to an increase in tooth decay or cavities," said Air Force Col. Blake Edinger, a doctor of dental surgery at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

"Every time you take a sip of that drink … the sugar coats the teeth and the bacteria in the mouth attacks that sugar and that forms an acid and that acid will attack the teeth for up to 20 minutes," Edinger said.

But despite the high sugar and caffeine content, one dental expert said the jury is still out on the effects of energy drinks.

"There are still a lot of studies going on," said Army Col. Jose Conde, chief of staff for Europe Regional Dental Command. "The energy drinks, some of them don’t have carbonation, but they are very acidic."

Conde said he is concerned about AAFES’ eye-popping sales figures.

"It could potentially be a big problem, especially if (servicemembers) drink it during deploying status. Their oral hygiene could be a big problem."


Top-selling cold beverages at AAFES for 2008

1. Monster energy drink (16 oz.)
2. Red Bull energy drink (16 oz.)
3. Coke Classic (12 oz.-24 pack)
4. Mountain Dew (20-oz. bottle)
5. Red Bull (8.3 oz.)
6. Mountain Dew Fridge Mate
(12 pack)
7. Monster low carbonated energy drink (16 oz.)
8. Pepsi Fridge Mate (12 pack)
9. Red Bull (12-oz. can)
10. Coke Classic, (20-oz. bottle)

Source: Army and Air Force Exchange Service

Sport drink sales (by container)

2006 - 2,372,620
2007 - 2,330,132
2008 - 2,287,917

Energy drink sales (by container)

2006 - 954,008
2007 - 1,777,057
2008 - 2,475,475

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