Final Paper: Energy Drinks

In today’s hectic society, the average person does not get the necessary eight hours of sleep. They do not eat the right foods to nourish their body with energy and they do not take vitamins to keep their health stable.  As a consequence, they feel tired and run down by mid-afternoon.  A smart solution would be to go to bed earlier, eat more fruits and vegetables, and to take vitamins daily.  However, because our world has evolved from a fast paced active society to a lazy, sluggish, overweight one, people tend to try and find the easy way out in everything that they do.  In this case, when a person is feeling a little fatigued, they tend to go after an energy drink to help them out.  These drinks are said to give you a “quick burst of energy” and they claim to have some nutritional value in them. Energy drinks have been around since the 1960’s and have lately become extremely popular. They now line our shelves with over 500 different brands on the market today.   Pat Thomas, an author of the article “Behind the Label” states, “The global energy drink market is now the fastest growing in the soft drinks world, doubling in size every year since it was first identified, to reach 1.5 billion sales in 2006.” The most popular energy drinks people consume are Monster, Red Bull, Full Throttle, and the infamous Four Loko.  However, the counterintuitive note here is the fact that these energy drinks do the exact opposite of what they say they do.  They say, “Health benefits;” I say,  “heart attack.”  They say “hydration and energy;” I say, “dehydration and fatigue.”   Energy drinks are unhealthy because they can create long-term health problems for people.  The chief culprits are the manufacturers who are misinforming the public about these health risks.

The most obvious ingredient in an energy drink is caffeine.  The downfall of this ingredient is the fact that people do not realize how much caffeine is in one can.  They may range from 90 to 500 milligrams per serving.  Jenna Hogan, an author of the article “What You Need to Know About Energy Drinks” states, “In comparison, an average 8-ounce serving of a soft drink and a cup of coffee contains 24 to 85 milligrams respectively.  This means that one 8-ounce energy drink can have as much caffeine as 14 colas!”  This high consumption of caffeine can be linked to side effects such as disrupted sleep, dehydration, kidney damage, seizures, strokes, high blood pressure, and a decrease in bone mass.  Jane Brody, an author of the New York Times, states in her article “Scientists See Dangers in Energy Drinks,” “It has been documented that four cases of caffeine-associated death have been reported, as well as five separate cases of seizures associated with the consumption of energy/power drinks.”  Additionally, caffeine increases heart rate and blood pressure, which raises the level of harmful stress hormones in the blood stream.  In addition to the overwhelming amount of caffeine in these drinks comes a ridiculous amount of sugar.  An eight -ounce can of an energy drink contains thirteen tablespoons of sugar.  These simple sugars are usually labeled as “Sucrose, Glucose, or Fructose.”  They are carbohydrates that are metabolized quickly by the body and produce a rapid energy burst.  “One of sugar’s major drawbacks is that it raises the insulin level, which inhibits the release of growth hormones, which in turn depresses the immune system.” If one is trying to stay clear of diseases, this is the last thing he or she needs to be hit with.

Another ingredient an average energy drink has in it is Taurine.  Taurine is an amino acid that is naturally made from the body.  It helps move minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium throughout the cells, which helps generate nerve impulses.  There is not much statistical data about the effect of taurine on the body, but when tested on guinea pigs and rats, they resulted in liver dysfunction.    Glucuronolactone is the next ingredient in the average energy drink, and to me is the most questionable one.  There have been no mammalian studies of glucuronolactone so we do not have any possible results that it can have on the body.  This in turn makes glucuronolactone a mystery ingredient.  The next component is the synthetic flavorings of the drink.  This is a vital ingredient because it tells what the drink will taste like.  The last ingredient in an energy drink can is the caramel, which simply adds the color to the drink.   Pat Thomas again states, “There is evidence that it may damage genes, slow growth, cause enlargement of the intestines, destroy vitamin B and cause hyperactivity.” The combination of these ingredients together may also cause conflicting effects on the body.

Energy drink dangers can often times be ignored or exaggerated. However, most of the time the dangers are only a concern when the drinks are consumed too frequently or at the wrong times.  In the article “Energy Supplements and Dangers,” the author states, “In today’s culture, it is easy for people to go to any extreme because few people act in moderation. A popular mentality seems to be that if one energy drink is good for a quick boost of energy, two, three, or four will be better to sustain energy throughout the day.”  This is where the root of the problem stems from because these drinks weren’t meant to be consumed recurrently.  The maximum recommended number of drinks consumed is two or less a day.  One of the most crucial danger of energy drinks are within athletes.  These drinks are being used increasingly by athletes before a game or an intense workout to amp up their energy.  This is extremely dangerous because these drinks were not constructed with this in mind.  “Because of the high sodium, sugar and caffeine content, they are not created to help replenish essential elements lost during intense workouts, and the caffeine can have a diuretic and dehydrating effect–the opposite of what is needed.” It is known that high doses of caffeine are actually banned in many sport competitions because it is known to improve muscle action and performance. Therefore, if an athlete consumes an energy drink before a game, he can easily become disqualified. Mr. David Tuttle, an exercise physiologist at Houston University, in an article from the New York Times said:  ”The B vitamins, which are important enzymes for energy utilization, are added to legitimize the high levels of sugar, but the American diet, which is very high in protein, already has plenty of B vitamins. These drinks are a kind of sensory overload for the body, with too much stuff coming in at the same time.” The ingredients in an energy drink are dangerous and overwhelming.

Curiosity strikes when people think about why the Food and Drug Administration have not put up a battle with these energy drink companies about the inappropriate ingredients in them.  The answer to that is because energy drinks are not classified as “beverages,” but are labeled as “supplements.”  This classification allows these companies to basically put whatever they want on the back of their labels.  There are no restrictions on the amount of ingredients or even which ones they choose to put in their products.  Because the FDA has no control over these manufacturers and what they decide to throw into their drinks, the public cannot be assured of its safety.   And strikingly, an over-the-counter medication containing 100 mg of caffeine must include a long list of FDA warnings while a 500 mg energy drink doesn’t even have to list caffeine information on the label.  In addition, because the FDA cannot control what these energy drink companies do, it allows producers to function and structure claims, like “Can increase calorie burn,” or  “Enhances athletic performance.”  They are allowing these claimants to not give evidence that they’re true. Elizabeth Welse stated in her article “ Petition Calls for FDA to Regulate Energy Drinks,” that “One hundred scientists and physicians have written a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking for more regulation of increasingly popular energy drinks because their high caffeine content puts young drinkers at possible risk for caffeine intoxication….”  The letter asked the FDA to have a requirement for the caffeine content to be listed on the back of the energy drink can as well as warning labels.  Due to the fact that the energy drinks in my local food stores still do not have warning labels or caffeine content amounts, it is obvious that the letter did not work.  However, it is motivating to hear that doctors and scientists are doing their best to make it known to the public about how dangerous energy drinks truly are.

Manufacturers of energy drink companies are sly not only because of their “supplement” classification, but also because they use devious strategies to improve their sales.  Their sales are not skyrocketing because their drinks have a delicious taste.  They are not growing in popularity because they “give you sufficient energy.” The key to their success is that they target young adults when advertising.  It is known that 65 percent of energy drink consumers are under the age of 35.   “Teenagers are more susceptible to the claims that the energy drink companies make, and this younger demographic is often out all night partying, as compared to more responsible adults who value sleep and a good night’s rest,” says an article on Fox News.  The packaging of these products demonstrates their appeal to a younger market. It’s what catches the initial attention of the person buying the drink.  “Some products tend to rely on subtle packaging that relates important information without being too flashy, while other products rely on the shock value of packaging to catch the attention of consumers and convince them to try the product.”  For example, the flashy colors and odd shapes of the cans make them stand out in the fridge at a food store.  Why grab an average diet cola off the shelf when you can look trendy, carrying around a bright hip energy drink?   “In addition to focusing on a specific age group, many energy drink companies are even more exclusive in their marketing efforts, gearing their products and advertising to appeal to very specialized groups, such as gamers, extreme sports enthusiasts, and the hip-hop crowd.”  Sport teams, rappers, or celebrities sponsor many of these drinks.  This makes the appeal for them even higher.

Because energy drinks can only provide enough information to fit on a can, the statistics usually focus on what the companies want to emphasize about their product.  For example, the ingredients take up a big portion of the can.  Clearly in a drink said to boost energy and reduce fatigue, caffeine and ingredients such as taurine and guarana are included in the label.  However, in order to emphasize the fact that these drinks are “healthy” for you, the companies include ingredients such as “vitamins, minerals, herbs, etc.”  This simple line of attack plays a trick on consumer’s minds.  They may not understand what the ingredient “taurine” is or what it does for their body, but seeing the ingredient “vitamins” automatically makes them feel like it’s good for their heath.  Unfortunately, the amount of Taurine in an energy drink greatly out weights the amount of vitamins and minerals.

Along with that, these specific crowds are more prone to believe the veracity of the claims that energy drink companies make.  Word of mouth is a vital part of energy drink advertising so the slogans they use must be catchy and memorable.  For example, Red Bull’s slogan is “Red Bull gives you Wings.”  Other slogans are “Unleash the Beast” (Monster,) “Go Full Throttle or Go Home” (Full Throttle,)  “Party Like a Rockstar” (Rockstar,) and “More Power to You” (Amp.)  As you can see, these slogans are obviously directed toward a younger crowd.  Teenagers strive for acceptance.  They will do anything in their power to raise their popularity level.  In today’s society, energy drinks are the stereotypical “cool” things to drink.  Having one in your hand automatically puts you in the attractive and fashionable category.  Energy drink companies take advantage of the fact that teens have a domino effect.  Once one kid has a Red Bull in his or her hand, a half an hour later every kid on the block does as well.  Energy drink companies understand the psychological aspect of advertising, which is why they are becoming so successful.

The people who are unsuccessful are the manufacturers of the notorious Four Loko energy drinks.  Phusion Projects is a company in Chicago that was founded in 2005 by three graduates of Ohio State University.  This company introduced the Four Loko beverage.  It is a drink that contains 12 percent alcohol, comes in neon colored cans, contains similar ingredients as in an energy drink (caffeine, guarana, and taurine), available in eight fruity flavors, and has caused chaos throughout America. Combining alcohol with energy drinks is even more risky.  By doing so, it causes impairment of motor coordination, weakness, and dry mouth. This is mixing a stimulant (the energy drink) with a depressant (alcohol). This can have an effect on your heart and the conflicting combination has even lead to death.  As other energy drink companies do, Phusion Projects targeted young adults to their product to an unbelievable extent.  They understood that young adults are exceptionally vulnerable to combining caffeine with alcohol, even though it can cause detrimental health issues. It’s slogan was “blackout in a can,” a line defined in itself as trouble.

Two studies have shown that college students who consume alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine tend to drink more and are prone to more risky and deviant behaviors. Author Jacob Sullum wrote in his article “Loco Over Four Loko,” “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculated 13,800 alcohol-related fatalities in the year of 2008.” A specific example of this statistic was three days before the FDA declared Four Lokos illegal.  A fourteen-year-old boy stole his parents SUV and crashed it into a guardrail on an Interstate in Denton, Texas.  His girlfriend in the passenger seat did not have her seat belt on and was instantly killed.  Police who had searched the car found five empty cans of Four Loko in the trunk.  The young boy was charged with intoxication manslaughter.  Fox News headlined this story as “Four Loko Found in Deadly Teen Crash.” That story is one of many linked to the consumption of Four Loko. In addition, according to the federal government’s Drug Abuse Warning Network, over 100,000 eighteen to twenty year olds make alcohol-related visits to American emergency rooms every year.  Through this, it is obvious that Four Loko lives up to its stereotypical phrase of “blackout in a can.”  That unfortunately can be taken literally due to the immense amount of deaths the destructive malt drink has done.  We can thank the FDA for finally putting their foot down and banning Four Lokos once and for all.  Unfortunately, those lives’ that were lost will never come back.

Energy drink companies misinform the public about what their products do.  They manipulate customers into believing their drinks will help improve their life.  They target specific crowds in order to gain success and they do that by packaging their items in a eye-catching way.  These companies don’t tell their buyers about the possible long-term effects these drinks can have on their bodies.  It is apparent that they care more about the money than the lives.  Energy drinks have absolutely no health benefits to your body.  They give you a quick burst energy, which is quickly followed by a power shortage.  Consuming more than one in a day can only increase your risk of side effects, but it seems that is exactly what these manufacturers are trying to get you to do, buy more and more and more.  The FDA finally banned Four Lokos from liquor stores throughout America.  We can only hope that they will modify energy drinks to make them less of a health hazard and more of a nutritional beverage.

Works Cited

Brody, Jane . “Energy Drinks Are Cause for Concern, Scientists Say – NYTimes.com.”The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/health/01brody.html?_r=1>.

“Energy, Marketing, & Packaging of the Drink – Energy Drinks at Fact Expert.”Energy Drinks at Fact Expert. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://energydrinks.factexpert.com/901-energy-drink-packaging.php>.

“FDA Requires Proof of Safety for Alcoholic Energy Drinks – Chef’s Blade.” Chef’s Blade : Sharpen your skills. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://chefsblade.monster.com/news/articles/1471-fda-requires-proof-of-safety-for-alcoholic-energy-drinks>.

“Hazards of Increased Energy: Beware of the Drink – Energy Drinks at Fact Expert.” Energy Drinks at Fact Expert. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://energydrinks.factexpert.com/890-energy-drink-hazards.php>.

“Illegally TargetingTeens with Energy Drinks.” Fox News.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,312225,00.html>.

“News Details – University of Illinois Extension.” Mobile Gateway – Univeristy of Illinois Extension. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://m.extension.illinois.edu/state/newsdetail.cfm?NewsID=20274>

“Slogans Screaming Energy: Why to Drink – Energy Drinks at Fact Expert.” Energy Drinks at Fact Expert. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://energydrinks.factexpert.com/905-energy-drink-slogans.php>.

“Sugar’s effect on your health.”Healing through Detoxification, Cleansing, Chelation, and Juicing.. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://www.healingdaily.com/detoxification-diet/sugar.htm>

Sullum, Jacob. “Loco Over Four Loko.” EBSCOhost Mar. 2009: 8. <http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid.htm>

“The Market for Energy: Drink Ads and the Target Group – Energy Drinks at Fact Expert.”Energy Drinks at Fact Expert. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://energydrinks.factexpert.com/907-energy-drink-target-market.php>.

Thomas, Pat. “Red Bull.”Science Reference Center Mar. 2007: 5. EBSCOhost. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid.htm>

Weise, Elizabeth. “Petition calls for FDA to regulate energy drinks – USATODAY.com.”News, Travel, Weather, Entertainment, Sports, Technology, U.S. & World – USATODAY.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-10-21-energy-drinks_N.htm>

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One Response to Final Paper: Energy Drinks

  1. davidbdale says:

    It seems natural to me, Julie, that since you’ve proved the dangers of these beverages far outweigh their usefulness, and since you’ve also demonstrated that they are marketed directly at unsuspecting youth who deserve our protection, that the position you’d be taking is: Let’s stop letting the manufacturers hide behind the “supplement” label that keeps them from being regulated by the FDA. You came close to making that demand, and I think it would have benefited the persuasiveness of your argument to make it. Overall very effective work of which you should be proud.

    Grade Posted.

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