As busy college students, most of us are looking for ways to stay alert throughout the day, despite dwindling levels of sleep around final exams period. Some blare music as they prep for the day, others turn to the more conventional cup of coffee every few hours, and many others crack open a can of their favorite energy drink when drowsiness starts to hit during those 9 a.m. classes.
But recent releases from the Food and Drug Administration have revealed that the energy drinks Monster, Rockstar Energy, and 5-Hour Energy are implicated in several fatality and injury filings. The reports indicate that as many as 13 deaths may have been a result of the 5-Hour Energy dietary supplement, and that in 2009, over 12,000 emergency hospital visits were linked to energy drinks. Although the nature of the deaths and injuries are unknown, the fact that the FDA released such data when they are not mandated to do so is telling.
Energy drinks have become one of the fastest growing products in America, with total sales reaching a combined $8.9 billion in 2011, a 16% hike from 2010. Primary drinkers are individuals between the ages of 18-34, making college campuses a major marketing target for energy drink companies. In fact, in an attempt to curb energy drink consumption, in 2011 the University of New Hampshire proposed banning the sale of energy drinks by campus retailers (although the proposal was quickly withdrawn after widespread student disapproval).
The issue most opponents of energy drinks have is that the amount of caffeine in a drink can be over two times as much as in a regular cup of coffee. In addition, most of these drinks contain compounds, such as taurine and guarana, that are naturally present in our bodies, but have limited studies looking at their effects when taken in higher dosages.
Finally, energy drinks are loaded with calories and sugars, averaging 200 calories and 52 grams of sugar in a 16 oz can.
Couple the content of these drinks with their low price and ease of access, it can be easy for a student to consume a large amount of energy drinks quickly and cheaply.
Most studies have determined that a healthy adult can safely consume 400 mg of coffee in a day — about the same amount of caffeine as two 16 oz energy drinks. However, there is little data on what teenagers can safely consume, and teenagers are the primary targets of energy drink marketing campaigns.
The controversy has even reached Congress, where Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have both urged the FDA to review the safety of energy drinks. For their efforts, just this past Tuesday the FDA formally announced they would begin an investigation into the safety of energy drinks.
With so much negative publicity over energy drinks emerging, has it changed the way students think about brands such as 5-Hour Energy or Monster?
Junior biology major Nathan Bradley has been drinking Monster for years. “I drink energy drinks because they taste good and are generally cheaper than the kind of coffee I like. I’m not trying to get super pumped … I’ve never had the five hour energy drink that the FDA report is about. I don’t think it’s safe to have “shots” with an undisclosed amount of caffeine be a substitute for coffee,” Bradley said.
Bradley’s sentiments seem to draw on a fundamental principle when it comes to diet. Almost anything can be OK to eat or drink, as long as it is done in moderation. All the FDA reports on deaths linked to energy drinks are result of individuals consuming huge amounts of the drink, or mixing energy drinks with alcohol. However, when consumed in a regular manner energy drinks should be relatively safe, although the question of health may be another matter.
“Those “energy shots” are just about the caffeine, no flavor so no interest to me. I’m a bit concerned about the FDA report, but seeing as I don’t drink these in excess or that particular brand, I’m not concerned. I do think that more research needs to be conducted,” Bradley said.