Rising consumption of energy drinks that contain high levels of sugar and caffeine may be contributing to our expanding waistlines, according to new research that could prove damaging for the booming energy drinks market.
Professor Elaine Rush from the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand claims to have found that an energy drink containing sugar, added caffeine and guarana causes the body to convert sugar into fat more rapidly than lemonade.
"These results could have huge implications when you think about how much sugar and caffeine people consume these days, and the high rates of inactivity," Professor Rush said.
Lemonade and other sodas are already being blamed by consumer groups for their role in increasing childhood obesity as many have high sugar content.
But energy drinks have previously been exempted from such attention as their caffeine content was thought to increase metabolism.
The new study is small and will need to be confirmed by further research. However it will need a close look by energy drinks makers, set to make sales of more than Ј1 billion (Ђ1.46bn) in the UK this year, according to Mintel data, reports Food Navigator.
Professor Rush says there is a place for everything in people's diet, but she is worried about the health effects on people who consume too much of these high-sugar, highly caffeinated products.
"Simple carbohydrates and caffeine were not such a large parts of our diet in the past. Inactive people have trouble burning off excess energy and this leads to weight gain. And of course, greater weight means more stress on the body, if the person is unfit."
While caffeine has recently been recognized as enhancing physical performance, energy drinks may not be beneficial for energy balance.
"These drinks are often marketed as energy-boosters and may be perceived as helpful for weight loss. This is misleading – they are a calorie-booster and may actually cause weight gain."
Professor Rush recognizes the study's limitations with its small sample size and the fact the subjects were all young women, but says its results are important as this area has not been explored before.
"There has been a great deal of research about sugar and obesity, but not the synergy between drinks and fat stores. This study also raises questions about the effects of consuming high-sugar foods and highly caffeinated drinks together in a short period of time."
Caffeine lasts in the body for four to six hours, so people who have caffeinated drinks, including sugar-free energy drinks or coffee, and then eat sugary food within this time frame, may experience similar effects.
"This area needs further research, as well as the long term effects of combined caffeine and sugar on sedentary people's health," Professor Rush said to Food Consumer.