The only energy drink I remember from my younger years is the highly caffeinated soda called Jolt Cola. I don’t recall that kids drank it or that they tried to get us to drink it with marketing. As a teenager, I didn’t really know what to make of Red Bull when it was introduced.
Today things are different. After reports of increased emergency room visits and even deaths from excessive caffeine consumption by children under 18, Red Bull is one of three energy drink companies embroiled in controversy concerning their marketing practices to kids and teenagers.
Last month energy drink makers Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar came under fire in a Senate commerce hearing . During the hearing energy drink makers were asked to describe their marketing practices to children and teenagers. Expert physicians and researchers were also asked for their opinion on the effects of caffeine consumption on kids and the effects of marketing to those children. US Senators Rockefeller, Blumenthal and Durbin seemed determined to prove that children and adolescents are a major target of the energy drink companies via websites, events and other non-traditional marketing practices.
Austin Lancaster, a “private” in the Monster Army is just 15.
Although Monster CEO Rodney Sacks stated that Monster’s primary demographic is young adult males and that it “does not focus its brand initiatives on young teenagers,” the drink maker sponsors a so-called Monster Army to support and develop teenaged athletes including some as young as 12 years old! Red Bull and Rockstar were not able to support their claims of not marketing to kids either, to the scorn of the Senators on the committee. Yale University researcher and food marketing expert Dr. Jennifer Harris explained during the event that energy drink ads appear on MTV and shows like Adult Swim that have more teenaged than adult viewers. Harris (who is the sister of Wax founder Bonnie Harris) presented several more fact points from her extensive research on marketing and children that seemed to negate the claims from all three energy companies present at the hearing.
None of the three companies would agree to put a label on their product limiting consumption to older than 16. That leaves us as parents to make the decisions around energy drinks. And the potential health issues associated with energy drinks are very real. The AMA stated it would support a ban on promoting energy drinks to kids under 18 because it could cause heart problems and other issues. There are cases of parents inadvertently giving energy drinks to kids to help them perform better in school sports unaware of the potential risks. Some parents are even suing for deaths of their teens via caffeine toxicity.
Whether or not we choose to allow our teenagers to have caffeine (and in what context) is up to us as parents to decide. But the marketing messages our kids are being fed are not always in our control. At the very least, food and drink companies with this kind of “attitude of denial” do not promote healthy sleep and lifestyle habits, critical factors to our children’s welfare. Instead, these company’s are encouraging kids to ignore their body’s messages for rest. What could be more dangerous?
If you’d like to watch the Senate hearing it can be viewed on the Senate committee website here
To read the U.S. Senate report on energy drinks and marketing to children, What’s the Buzz About, visit here