Should Energy Drinks That Contain High Levels of Caffeine
Be Restricted to People Over 18?
Energy drinks, with high amounts of caffeine, sugar and taurine have become quite popular in the United States in the past decade, especially among teenagers. The drinks are marketed as hip and trendy, giving the drinker a blast of energy and a high like ingesting speed or cocaine. Energy drinks are often marketed to young people in advertising campaigns for sports events such as snowboarding and skateboarding (MacDonald, Stanbrook & Hebert, 2010, p. 1597). The downside, however, is the inherent physical danger attributed to these beverages. The New York Times revealed that the Federal Drug Administration received thirteen reports from 2008-20012 about deaths related to the 5-Hour Energy Drink, and in 2012 five reports of deaths implicating Monster Energy (Meier, 2012). More than 90 other reports received by the FDA in regards to the 5-Hour Energy Drink were associated with heart attacks, convulsions and a spontaneous abortion (Meier, 2012). Then there was the case of Anais Fournier, a fourteen-year-old girl who drank two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks within a 24-hour period and had a heart attack (Hsu, 2013). The girl’s parents sued Monster and the public attention sparked a debate on whether or not energy drinks that contain high levels of caffeine should be restricted to people who are over eighteen years of age. This paper shall discuss the current cultural and social atmosphere around the use of energy drinks, and how energy drink companies have been defending their product.
Health Risk Research
After the disclosure of the FDA reports, some U.S. lawmakers and consumer advocates have been pressing for tough regulations on the sale of energy drinks, with Senator Richard Dubin of Illinois pressing the FDA to probe deeper into the health risks of energy drinks(Nelson & Terhune, 2012). The FDA regulates caffeine levels in soft drinks; energy drinks have bypassed that scrutiny because they are not labeled as soft drinks but dietary supplements (Nelson & Terhune, 2012).
At the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, at Yale University, Pomeraz, Munsell and Harris (2013) conducted research into energy drink consumption among teens and found the popularity and use of such drinks rising each year; of particular concern is mixing energy drinks with alcohol, resulting in health problems and fatalities (Simon & Mosher, 2007). The statistics concerning teenager consumption of sugary and caffeinted drinks has increased to an alarming rate, as more products have been introduced on the market and are available to all ages (Park, Blanck, Sherry, Brener, & O’Toole, 2012). Pediatricians have been reporting an increase of health issues and obesity among children and adolescents that they diagnose are the result of too much high sugar and caffeine content beverages (Seifert, Schaechter, Hershorin, & Lipshultz, 2011). Consumption of these drinks is also associated with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (Pomeraz et al., 2013, p. 4).
Call for Regulations
The American Beverage Association has issued guidelines for responsible labeling by energy drink manufacturers (ABA, 2013). The guidelines also insist that energy drinks should not be promoted as sports drinks (Pomeraz et al., 2013, p. 13). However, marketing is protected under the First Amendment in the United States as free speech, so the ABA is advocating self-regulating for the good of society. Researchers and regulators are treading untested ground because energy drinks are new products in the marketplace, with little research done by dietary measurement panels (Pomeraz et al., 2013, p. 14). Other nations have already either banned energy drinks, such as France banning Red Bull (Medical News Today, 2004) or heavily regulating them as Canada has done, imposing a cap of 180 mg of caffeine per can, as opposed to the 280 mg normally included (Mills, 2012).
Petitions have circulated and been signed by concerned citizens, medical professionals and scholars asking that the FDA regulate product ingredients (Weise, 2012) and that policy makers address this growing public health concern before it becomes more problematic (Pomeranz, 2011). Public safety supercedes the drive for profit by energy drink companies (Higgins, Tuttle, & Higgins, 2010; Pomeraz et al., 2013). Some advocates advise there should be no advertising targeted at children, that there should be labels for products with caffeine levels exceeding 100 mg (MacDonald, Stanbrook & Hebert, 2010, p. 1597) and there should be a restriction on youth access (Pomeraz et al., 2013, p. 15).
Suffolk County, New York, recently signed into law a ban on energy drinks marketed to minors at parks and beaches (Larocco, 2013), albeit free speech concerns. This legislation does not ban sales to minors, however. Chicago City Council has proposed a ban on drinks with more than 180 mg of caffeine not only to minors, but adults, citing growing public health concerns and medical research on the negative side effects high caffeine beverages (Bernot, 2013). In this case, public health outweighs free speech. In Maine, the issue has become political as party lines are divided over the call for a state-sponsored study; however, Republicans deemed the study groups unnecessary (Stone, 2013). The health risk factors for young people is, however, undeniable as the data continues to grow (Seifert et al., 2011). The sentiment is, like sales of cigarettes and alcohol, those under eighteen who cannot make completely informed decisions on the potential danger should not be able to purchase energy drinks that exceed a certain level of caffeine (Pomeranz, 2011; Seifert et al., 2011; Pomeranz et al., 2013). Whether or not the United States and FDA will restrict the sale of energy drinks to those over eighteen will continue to be debated among medical professionals, politicians, and energy drink companies.
Energy Drink Companies Respond to the Issue
After the news of the lawsuit filed by Anais Fournier’s parents against Monster Energy, stock for the company took a dive and sales decreased. Monster Energy came under negtive scrutiny by the press and public. The company decided to list the caffeine content on the cans but denied there was any sound evidence that the teenage girl died from consuming two cans of Monster, noting she had previous health problems and that heart disease ran in her family history (Hsu, 2013). Manoj Bhargava, the CEO of 5-Hour Energy, also denied that his company’s product has resulted in deaths, and stated caffeine is good for one’s health. Medical care professionals have expressed a need for energy drink companies to not put sales and stock prices above the health and well-being of their customers, especially children and teenagers (MacDonald, Stanbrook, & Hebert, 2010; Pomeranz, 2011; Park, Blanck, Sherry, Brener, & O’Toole, 2012). As with tobacco companies, however, it is highly unlikely that the energy drink companies will admit their products pose any health danger (Simon & Mosher, 2007).
The high levels of caffeine and sugar in many energy drinks are undeniable. Research into the health risks continues to implicate a danger to children, teens, and young adults who consume these drinks frequently, often more than one in a single day. A number of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations for a variety of health issues increasingly point to consumption of energy drinks that spike blood sugar levels and stimulate the metabolism. Further investigative research needs to be done and medical professionals are calling for regulations and bans within the United States. Other nations have done so already, much to the chagrin of energy drink companies. The deaths of teenagers associated with energy drink consumption cannot be overlooked, and concerned groups and doctors are asking energy drink manufacturers to be more socially aware of whom they market to and the caffeine content of their product.
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