This photo illustration shows soda being poured from a can Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011, in Philadelphia. A recent attempt by the corn industry to change the name of a widely used but increasingly controversial sweetener was misleading and could have robbed consumers of important information, a top official at the Food and Drug Administration said in documents obtained by The Associated Press.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

South Africans are some of the biggest consumers of energy drinks in the world, according to a recent survey.

The Analytix Business Intelligence Report, titled “South Africa Brand Report: Consumers of Energy Drinks”, showed that personal consumption of energy drinks is an increasing trend among younger South Africans.

The survey, which was completed in January, worked with three popular brands of energy drinks: Bioplus, Power Play and Red Bull. It examined demographics, lifestyle, media consumption and cellphone and internet use.

According to the survey, more than 6 million South Africans older than the age of 15 had consumed an energy drink within the past seven days. About 72 percent of drinkers were between the ages of 15 and 39, with men making up 52 percent of the market.

Because of their effect on mental performance and alertness, energy drinks were found to be commonly used among high school pupils and university students when studying for exams. They are also popular as drink mixers – bars around the world offer vodka with energy drinks, especially Red Bull.

The survey also showed that between 2009 and last year, the proportion of consumers that were classified as “medium” (three to five drinks in the past seven days) had increased from 18 to 20 percent, and the proportion of “light” drinkers (one to two drinks in the past seven days) had declined from 77 to 75 percent.

In light of these results, the Association for Dietetics in SA (Adsa) has urged consumers to approach energy drinks with caution, because they can pose serious health risks, including raised blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, sleep disturbances and dangers to pregnancy.

“Energy drinks have a high caffeine content, which increases blood pressure and heart rate,” said Adsa president Berna Harmse.

“Energy drinks differ from sports drinks and enhanced waters, as the ingredients in energy drinks have raised concerns about toxicity and potentially serious adverse effects.”

Harmse said adults consumed about 400mg of caffeine a day.

“It’s not a nutrient,” she said. “You do not require caffeine in your diet. As it is not stored in the body, but rather excreted in the urine, it does have a diuretic effect, causing a risk of dehydration.”

Harmse encouraged people to consider the impact of excess caffeine on their health. “This is especially true for people who are sensitive to caffeine, to children and adolescents, and pregnant women,” she said. “Always be sure to start the day with a nutritious breakfast, and to plan what you will eat during the day so as not to resort to a quick fix.”