Student's Research: Energy Drinks are Bunk

Energy drinks
CBS/The Early Show

The energy drink industry generated more than $6 billion in sales in the United States last year. But how much energy do the beverages actually generate?

CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports on the young researcher who spared no energy to find out:

It's a safe bet that of all the speakers at the annual meeting of emergency physicians in Boston, only one needed his dad's help setting up - 12-year-old. Brendan O'Neil, the youngest ever to present at the conference.

"Many people use energy drinks like Monster to enhance their performance in sports - at least they think it will. So, I just wanted to test to see if these energy drinks really did what they were advertised to do," O'Neil said.

It started as a science project at Everest Academy in Clarkston, Mich. Brendan occasionally drank a Monster energy drink before a football game and wondered if it really gave him more energy.

So his project pitted the caffeinated Monster against decaffeinated Sprite in a series of tests - his conclusion?

Energy drinks compared to soda had no significant effect on your exercise performance. The results for Sprite and Monster were pretty much the same.

Brendan's dad Brian, an emergency room physician himself, was shocked by the results. At the very least, he expected the energy drinks would raise an athlete's blood pressure or heart rate, but that didn't happen. He thought the project was so well researched that he submitted it to the Annals of Emergency Medicine - anonymously, as are all entries to the prestigious medical journal.

"So when I submitted it, it got accepted," Brian O'Neil said. "I called them and said, 'You know he's 12 years old. Are there any rules against 12-year-olds?' And they said 'No, we don't have any.'"

Brian O'Neil knows what you're thinking - there's no way a kid did all this work himself.

"Every father helps their kid with their science project," he said.

But, he says, Brendan did most of it - the charts, the graphs. Brendan defended the research to the journal. And it's clear the kid was the one who thought of using a video game as part of the experiment, as a way to test reaction times after each drink.

Brendan says despite the results, he still occasionally drinks Monster, though not as much as he used to. As for the future and what he's going to be when he grows up?

"Probably an emergency room physician," he said. "Like my dad."