Energy drinks hide up to 21 teaspoons of sugar, risky levels of caffeine

24 October 2016

Students warned to resist unhealthy buzz during exams

Leading health experts are urging students to avoid using energy drinks to fuel study sessions and exams as some products deliver an enormous 21 teaspoons of sugar and as much caffeine as two and a half espresso shots.

The 13 health and community organisations behind Rethink Sugary Drink warn that energy drinks can leave students struggling to concentrate when they need to most and regular consumption can lead to serious health problems in the long term.

"Some large energy drinks contain up to 21 teaspoons of sugar and as much caffeine as two and a half shots of espresso, making them a risky drink choice for anyone, but especially for students who may be consuming several a day during this stressful end of year exam period," Cancer Council Australia's Public Health Committee Chair, Craig Sinclair, said.

"The high levels of caffeine and sugar in energy drinks cause energy and blood sugar levels to spike, but after about an hour the caffeine and sugar in your body starts to wear off and you'll feel tired and lethargic. So in the middle of your exam or study session, your energy levels are likely to crash making it difficult to focus.

"If consumed regularly the high sugar content in energy drinks can lead to weight gain and obesity, increasing your risk of heart and kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers."

Australian Dental Association's Oral Health Committee Chair, Dr Peter Alldritt, said energy drinks are also a major contributing factor to tooth decay and tooth erosion.

"Sipping slowly and constantly on energy drinks during a study session is a disaster for teeth. With every sip, you are exposing your teeth to another attack of acid and sugar – this is a recipe for tooth damage," Dr Alldritt said.

Energy drinks are growing in popularity, with sales of energy drinks in Australia and New Zealand increasing from 34.5 million litres in 2001 to 155.6 million litres in 2010 . Energy drink sales have risen by an average of 6.7 per cent a year since 2010 .

Rethink Sugary Drink is concerned about the rise of energy drinks as brands target our young people with clever marketing tactics.

"We've seen enormous growth in the energy drinks market in the past few years with new brands, flavours and larger sizes now available and just like other types of sugary drinks, energy drinks are heavily marketed as the ideal drink of choice for young Australians," Mr Sinclair said.

"Major energy drink brands like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar pour enormous amounts of money into partnerships with events and activities young people enjoy, such as extreme sports and music festivals. They are also adept at targeting advertising on social media and in outdoor spaces frequented by young people, in their efforts to develop brand images that are extremely enticing to young people.

"In order to counter this relentless marketing by the beverage industry we need a public education campaign supported by Australian governments to highlight the health impacts of sugary drinks and encourage Australians to reduce their consumption."

The Rethink Sugary Drink alliance recommends the following actions to tackle sugary drink consumption:

  • A public education campaign supported by Australian governments to highlight the health impacts of regular sugary drink consumption
  • Tougher restrictions on the sale of soft drinks in schools and venues frequented by young people such as sports centres.
  • A 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks in Australia.
How energy drinks compare
Energy drink brand Sugar Caffeine
Rockstar Punched Energy + Guava tropical guava flavour 500mL 21 tsp (83.5g) 160mg
Rockstar Supersours green apple flavour 500mL 17 tsp (69g) 160mg
V Carnival 500mL 17 tsp (69.2g) 155mg
Monster Energy 500mL 14 tsp (57g) 160mg
Red Bull 473mL 13 tsp (51g) 151mg
Mother 500mL 13 tsp (51g) 160mg
V Guarana Energy Drink 350mL 9 tsp (37g) 109mg
Red Bull 250mL 7 tsp (27.5g) 80mg
Mother 250mL 7 tsp (26g) 80mg

Got a big exam or study session coming up? Here are Rethink Sugary Drink's tips to help you keep your energy levels up, minus energy drinks:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast (your parents were right. This is vital). Try muesli, yoghurt and fruit, two eggs on toast, a classic toasted sandwich or get fancy and make an omelette.
  • Get plenty of fresh air. Go for a walk outside or visit a friend. It's much more energising than opening the fridge. Again.
  • Stay hydrated with lots of tap water.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Even a quick trip to the loo can help.
  • Do regular physical activity. A 20-minute jog, yoga or Pilates can revive your body and mind.
  • Call your mum. We're serious. Making a quick call to a loved one is a good way to give your brain a break (and your mum will appreciate it).
  • Eat healthy snacks regularly. Nuts, yoghurt, fruit and toast are all ideal. 
  • Go easy on the caffeine. It disturbs your sleep and makes you more tired the next day.

About Rethink Sugary Drink: Rethink Sugary Drink is a partnership between the Australian Dental Association, Cancer Council Australia, Dental Health Services Victoria, Dental Hygienists Association of Australia, Diabetes Australia, Heart Foundation, Kidney Health Australia, Nutrition Australia, Obesity Policy Coalition, Stroke Foundation, Parents' Voice, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the YMCA to raise awareness of the amount of sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages and encourage Australians to reduce their consumption. Visit  for more information.