The danger of energy drinks

Amalie Knudsen

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Energy drinks claim to give you wings. It’s more likely to give you a heart attack.

When I was at the start of my teenage years, drinking an energy drink was one of the most outrageous things I could do. My mom disapproved of it. So my friends and I drank it like seventeen year olds drink their forbidden booze. Norwegian parents would not encourage their teenagers to drink coffee, they would not encourage adolecents to drink caffeinated soda. Caffeine can do harm, parents know that.

At that time Red Bull and other high caffeinated drinks were illegal in Norway, and could only be sold in pharmacies, because of their high content of caffeine. My energy drink favourites ‘Battery’ and ‘dark dog’ had a caffein content lower than 150mg caffein per litre. Then in 2009, due to EU regualtions, Norway had to open the market, and Red Bull came to give us wings. Red Bull contains 320mg caffeine per litre. Some energy drinks contains as much as 500 mg of caffeine per bottle

Some Norwegian retailers thought it was unethical to sell this possible harmful drink to adolescents, and decided to put their own age restrictions on the sale of high caffeinated drinks. Rightfully, I would argue.

Research have shown that energy drinks are unsuitable beverage for adolescents age 10-19. This multibillion sector is profiling heavily towards youth and adolescents, sponsoring young athletes in popular sports like motocross, formula 1, speedway, stunt riding, moto gp, snowboard, surfing and skateboarding. The popular energy drink Red Bull is an official sponsor of the snow-sports event called «X Games» with the target audience being male, between 12 and 34. These sports are often viewed as risky and exciting. The same attributes that the energy drink companies links to their product i.e. “Unleash the beast” is Monster Energy’s slogan, and “Red Bull gives you wings” for the Austrian brand Red Bull.

Hashtagged: With the hashtag #givesyouwings Red Bull gets free marketing from their customers. This is Instagram pictures, screenshot from Statigr.am.
Hashtagged: With the hashtag #givesyouwings Red Bull gets free marketing from their customers. This is Instagram pictures, screenshot from Statigr.am.

In 2012 over 4.5 million litres of energy drink was consumed world wide (Euromonitor international), a doubling of consummation over the last six years. The top three brands, Red Bull, Monster Energy and Rockstar was estimated to retail for $5,4 billion in 2012 in the US only.

The systematic review Energy drinks: A New Health Hazard for Adolescents  argues that the consummation of energy drinks by adolescents can lead to “dehydration, accelerated heart rates, anxiety, seizures, acute mania, and strokes”.

The report Caffeinated energy drinks – a growing problem states that “Deaths attributed to energy drink consumption have been reported in Australia, Ireland, and Sweden”. The report A case of acute suicidality following excessive caffeine intake  concludes that sports and energy drinks can lead to suicide.

Reading these reports there are no doubt that adolescents can put themselves in a horrible condition by drinking energy drinks.

Energy drinks usually contains other energy supplements, like taurin, guarana (caffeine), panax ginseng and riboflavin, which health effects have not sufficiently researched. According to the research Caffeinated Energy Drinks — A Growing Problem (2009) this means that “the acute and long-term effects resulting from excessive and chronic consumption of these additives alone and in combination with caffeine can possibly be very dangerous”

In a research done by Bryant and Wolfson (2009) found that adolescence that consumed caffeine regularly more often experienced more daytime sleepiness, and experienced enhancing effects from caffeine and withdrawal without daily use. This shows that adolescents consuming energy drinks can easily develop an addiction to caffeine.

There are numerous events of energy drink consumers being hospitalised. 41 one cases were reported to the U.S. poison control center from 2002–2004. According to the FDA the death of five people over the past three years are linked to consuming the popular energy drink Monster Energy.

The latest death in the US occurred in December 2011. The 14-year-old girl Anais Fournier died from cardiac arrhythmia after consuming two containers of Monster Energy, and her family filed a lawsuit against the energy drink company. In a press release, Monster Energy denies any connection to the death of Ms. Fournier.

So why are energy drinks any worse than coffee? I would argue that they are promoted toward young consumers, and are easier to consume in high volumes. The energy drink sector produce a beverage proven harmful to the people in their key consumer group.

With energy drinks on the market is seems legit to give adolescents access to caffeine, the taste and looks are appealing to adolescents, and to parents it often resembles regular soda. Without governmental warnings or restrictions it can also be hard for parents to restrict their children from consuming energy drinks.

An effective form of promotion for the energy drink sector where young consumers play with the corporate created hashtags. As Red Bull sent Felix Baumgarten out in space, they got the attention of every news room in the western world, and according to sarahsfav.se “During the jump and the moments after Baumgartner safely landed, half the worldwide trending topics on Twitter had something to do with the jump.”

“A small step for a man, a giant leap for energy drink marketing” someone wrote on the micro blog.

It seems like putting adolescents health at risk is too profitable to think about the ethics.

The hashtag #givesyouwings works well as a hashtag for Red Bull, who with the Felix Baumgarden jump managed to dominate half the world on Twitter. Heres some contemporary tweets, that shows the young appeal of energy drinks on social media.

Top Photo from Flicr CC by 2.0 user Guudmorning! http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristiand/

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Amalie Knudsen

Norwegian studying in Dublin, you can find me as @amalieknudsen both on Twitter and Instagram, and if you remove @ and ad .com, you got my blog.