ENERGY drinks could be a gateway to alcohol for children, a study suggests.
Kids who drink caffeinated fizzy drinks were twice as likely to try booze before the age of 11, researchers found.
The study, which looked at data from 2,000 children in the US, also found the same kids were more impulsive and had worse memory.
Researchers said new recommendations for caffeine soda limits in children need to be developed to counter the issues.
Lead author Mina Kwon, from Seoul National University in Korea, said: “Daily consumption of caffeinated soda in children is predictive of substance use in the near future.
“One possible explanation is that caffeine and sugar make the individual more sensitive to the effects of harder drugs like alcohol.”
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Previous research has shown that teenagers and young adults were more likely to start drinking alcohol early if they had caffeine every day.
The study, published in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, looked at how drinking caffeinated sodas impacted the chances of nine- to 10-year-olds trying booze within a year.
Researchers also looked at how it impacted their chances of well-known risk factors for substance use disorder, like poor impulse control and a worse working memory.
Those who drank caffeinated sodas every day were more likely to score worse for both, as well as start drinking alcohol earlier.
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Researchers said the results could support the “gateway hypothesis” — that substances in the caffeinated sodas affect young brains to make them more likely to have problems with alcohol in later life.
They also suggested the link could occur because children who are more impulsive naturally would be more likely to drink more caffeinated drinks when young, and then continue this approach to alcohol or drugs as an adult.
Professor Woo-Young Ahn said: “Frequently consuming caffeinated soda could indicate a higher risk of initiating substance use in the future, due to the common risk factors between the two behaviours.
“Our results have important implications for public health recommendations.
"Our study provides novel insight into the neurobehavioural correlates of caffeinated soda consumption in children, which has rarely been evaluated.
“It’s vital, therefore, to develop evidence-based recommendations for caffeinated soda consumption in minors.
“There is no consensus on a safe dose of caffeine in children, and some children might be more vulnerable to adverse effects associated with frequent caffeine consumption than others.”
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