Fear the Energy Drinks? New Evidence of the Dangers of Energy Drinks

February 16, 2011

It should be no surprise to anyone that too much energy drink consumption is bad for a person, especially children.  But how much is too much?  And how is bad for a person?  It is not uncommon for young people to drink more than one energy drink to stay up to engage in a variety of activities from gaming to studying.  The issue becomes the risks posed from the energy drinks.  The problem centers on the high amounts of caffeine and other ingredients that provide “energy.”  In reality, those ingredients heart palpitations, seizures, strokes, and even death.  Caffeine is the central ingredient.  Energy drinks typical contains  four to five the amount found in sodas.  Physicians now argue that drinking four or five energy drinks per day can be dangerous for children. 

Here is a summary of a recent medical study

Energy drinks may pose a risk for serious adverse health effects in some children, especially those with diabetes, seizures, cardiac abnormalities or mood and behavior disorders.

A new study, “Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults,” in the March issue of Pediatrics (published online Feb. 14), determined that energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit to children, and both the known and unknown properties of the ingredients, combined with reports of toxicity, may put some children at risk for adverse health events.

Youth account for half of the energy drink market, and according to surveys, 30 percent to 50 percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks. Typically, energy drinks contain high levels of stimulants such as caffeine, taurine, and guarana, and safe consumption levels have not been established for most adolescents. Because energy drinks are frequently marketed to athletes and at-risk young adults, it is important for pediatric health care providers to screen for heavy use both alone and with alcohol, and to educate families and children at-risk for energy drink overdose, which can result in seizures, stroke and even sudden death.

Here is the name an link to the full report:  ‘Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults’

This is not an overreaction from a group of concerned parents or scare tactics from a group that does not like energy drinks.  This is a scientifically based study by trained medical professionals trying to understand the potential risk of a product.  Nor is the concern sudden.  In 2010, The American Association of Poison Control Centers began tracking energy drink overdoses and side effects nationwide.  Their findings:  677 cases occurred from October through December of 2010 and 331 have been reported this year (Feb of 2010).  One issue that Poison Control has is the failure of many companies to disclose the amount of caffeine in drinks.  In fact, the Poison Control Centers began issuing warnings about energy drinks three years ago.

If young people are a key target market, we would expect concern from the beverage industry about this new report.  Here is a statement from Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy at the American Beverage Association, an industry group, said the report “does nothing more than perpetuate misinformation” about energy drinks. The Association added: 

“Like all foods, beverages and supplements sold in the US, energy drinks and their ingredients are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration,” the ABA said. “When it comes to caffeine, it’s important to put the facts in perspective. Most mainstream energy drinks actually contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee. In fact, young adults getting coffee from popular coffeehouses are getting about twice as much caffeine as they would from a similar size energy drink.”

Here is more from the Association’s news release

“It’s unfortunate that the authors of this article would attempt to lump all energy drinks together in a rhetorical attack when the facts of their review clearly distinguishes the mainstream responsible players from novelty companies seeking attention and increased sales based solely on extreme names and caffeine content.

Their review confirms that the amount of caffeine in mainstream energy drinks is, in fact, moderate. As a comparison, energy drinks typically contain half the caffeine found in regular coffeehouse coffee. Specifically, a 16-ounce regular blend coffee at a popular coffeehouse contains 320 mg of caffeine, while a comparable size mainstream energy drink contains about 160 mg (see graphic here: http://www.ameribev.org/industry-issues/healthy-balanced-diet/beverage-ingredients/caffeine/fact-sheets/download.aspx?id=192). So those suggesting that energy drinks should require warning labels need to be aware of the slippery slope this would create: to be consistent, products at coffeehouses also would require such unnecessary labeling.

Furthermore, our companies market their energy drink products responsibly. It’s unhelpful to the public that the authors would combine certain extreme products with illicit or suggestive names with other more mainstream energy drinks in an effort to sensationalize and demonize the entire product category and gain exposure for their work.

Questions to Consider

1.  How would you evaluate the credibility of the study?  Why does credibility matter in issues management?

2.  How ethical is the charge of misinformation made by the American Beverage Association?  Explain your evaluation.

3.  Is it fair to say the reaction from the American Beverage Association was predictable?  Why or why not?

4.  Should the energy drink makers be worried about new regulations appearing as a result of this study?  Why or why not?

5.  How would you evaluate the American Beverage Association’s reaction from an issues management perspective?  From a crisis management perspective?

6.  How would you evaluate the risk this report posses to the energy drink makers?  How did you arrive at that evaluation?


%d bloggers like this: