Yesterday, March 23, the Academy for Eating Disorders publicized a new study to be published in the Journal of American College Health about the concerning association between energy drink consumption and disordered eating among college students. The list of health consequences of energy drinks continues to grow and since the college population are among the highest consumers of these beverages, it is important to look at associations within that age cohort.
This study gathered data from the American College Health Association - National College Health Assessment II, which consisted of a total of 856 undergraduate students' health behaviors. Based on the known association between unhealthy behaviors and energy drink consumption, the researchers were curious as to whether this association was similar for weight loss and disordered eating behaviors.
Additionally, energy drinks are directly related to unhealthy weight loss practices in some respects. It is acknowledged that caffeine can be used for appetite-suppressive effects, but less well-known is that a common ingredient in energy drinks, bitter orange, also has ephedra-like weight loss properties. Together, they act synergistically to create harmful consequences to the heart in an attempt to spur weight loss.
The prevalence of energy drink consumption alone was surprising, with almost 70% of students reporting consuming an energy drink at least once in their lifetime and 30% consuming at least one in the last 30 days. Men were more likely to report energy drink use than women, at almost 80%, and students with a history of energy drink consumption had a higher BMI than those who had not. An interesting note to those who attempt to use energy drinks to enhance late night studying: those consuming energy drinks had a lower GPA than students who did not rely on energy drinks.
In terms of the association with weight loss behaviors, students reporting energy drink consumption were more likely to report that they were currently trying to lose weight and that they were more dissatisfied with their appearance than students who did not drink energy drinks. Additionally, the use of diet pills and either exercising, vomiting, or using laxatives to lose weight was significantly related to energy drink consumption.
Although this study cannot show causality, it does suggest that energy drinks are associated with unhealthy weight loss behaviors and poor body image. There is the potential that energy drinks may be used by students as a weight loss aid, due to the known effects of caffeine and bitter orange in curbing appetite. Therefore, it may be wise for student health centers at university to ask about energy drink consumption in order to assess risk for other unhealthy behaviors, such as diet pills and disordered eating.