July 31, 2013

Durbin: Energy Drink Companies Should Not Market Their Products to Children Under 18

Senator warns that as sale of energy drinks has grown, so has the alarming evidence that they pose potential health risks

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) delivered opening remarks at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee examining the potential health risks of energy drinks and the marketing of these products to youth. Senator Durbin’s remarks as prepared are below.  A live webcast of today’s hearing is available on the Commerce Committee website: http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/

 

Durbin coauthored a report entitled “What’s all the Buzz about?” that shows inconsistencies in the labeling and classification of energy drinks, extensive marketing to adolescents and young adults through social media and events, and high caffeine levels that exceed the level considered safe in soda by the Food and Drug Administration.  Specifically, the report found that adolescent consumers are frequent targets for the marketing pitches of energy drink companies through the use of unconventional marketing practices.   Product design and placement on store shelves assist in creating product images that appeal to children and teens. 

 

The report, which will be discussed at today’s hearing, highlighted specific instances of marketing to children and teens including, the “Monster Energy Drink Player of the Game” awarded at some high schools to outstanding student athletes.  This is an honor which includes the students taking photos with a pack of Monster Energy in each hand.  Monster sponsors sporting events such as the Rick Thorne’s Grindz and Rhymez Tour, an event catering to kids in skate parks, at which Monster Energy paraphernalia is featured and Monster drinks are provided to children.  Red Bull’s website features the Red Bull Game Breakers, a high school football tournament, as well as photos of what appear to be student athletes drinking the beverage.  The company also sponsors the Red Bull Rookies Cup, a motorcycle race for children as young as thirteen. 

 

Senator Durbin’s remarks as prepared follow:

 

Opening Statement

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin

Commerce Committee Hearing: “Energy Drinks: Exploring Concerns About Marketing to Youth”

July 31, 2013

 

 

I commend Chairman Rockefeller and Senator Blumenthal for their leadership in convening this hearing on such an important issue.

 

And I thank Chairman Rockefeller for inviting me to make a statement.  

 

Rise in Energy Drink Consumption

 

Ten years ago, most of the people in this room had never heard of an energy drink.

 

Things have certainly changed. By some estimates, the sale of energy drinks has risen by 60% over the last 5 years.

 

Energy drinks are now a common fixture in grocery stores, vending machines, and convenience stores.

 

As the sale of energy drinks has grown, so has the alarming evidence that they pose potential health risks and that the energy drink market has grown to its current size through marketing to children and adolescents.

 

Health Concerns

 

Scientific studies have concluded that consuming large amounts of caffeine can have serious health risks, such as seizures, heart arrhythmias, and in some cases death.

 

Organizations committed to the well-being of children and adolescents, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the National Federal of State High School Association, and the NCAA discourage young people from drinking energy drinks.

 

In fact the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that “energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”  

 

A recent article in an official AAP journal said, “given the unknown levels of caffeine and other poorly studied additives [in energy drinks], there is significant risk associated with energy drink consumption that may outweigh the benefits in the adolescent consumer.” 

 

Warnings from AAP are echoed by a recent SAMHSA report, which found that between 2007 and 2011, emergency room visits related to the consumption of energy drinks doubled from 10,068 to 20,793.

In the first 6 months of this year, the American Association of Poison Control Centers have already received 1,575 reports related to energy drinks and 988 of those reports --over half --involved children 18 and younger.

 

High Levels of Caffeine and Stimulants

 

Many of the health concerns about energy drinks are due to their high levels of caffeine and ingredients that act as stimulants.

 

The FDA currently limits the level of caffeine in soda to no more than 71 milligrams of caffeine in a 12 ounce can.

 

Compare that to the 240 milligrams of caffeine in a 24 ounce can of Monster Energy.

 

Some energy drinks even contain over 300 milligrams of caffeine in a 16 ounce can.

 

But as we all know, most energy drinks are not sold in 12 ounce cans.  They are sold in 16, 24, and even 32 ounce cans.

 

Here are two 24 ounce cans of Monster Energy and Rockstar.  Just one of these cans contains 240 milligrams of caffeine.

 

These cans are sold in convenience stores right next to Gatorade and soft drinks, but just one of these cans contains the same amount of caffeine as almost 7 cans of soda—which contain about 35 milligrams of caffeine each.

 

Keep in mind that some adolescents consume more than one energy drink in a 24 hours period.

 

And that these drinks contain not only caffeine, but additives that act as stimulants, such as guarana and ginseng.

 

Although many of these ingredients have been used for years, energy drinks combine them in new ways and at high doses.

 

On top of that, energy drink companies urge people to “chug down,” “throw it back,” or “pound down” their products and to consume them before, during, or after physical activity to enhance performance.

 

As result, young people are exposed to high levels of stimulants in a short window of time and in new ways compared to how people have traditionally consumed caffeinated hot drinks or beverages.

 

Marketing to Kids

 

Across the board, makers of energy drinks say they do not market their products to children.

 

 

But then you hear about samples of energy drinks being distributed at places where teens hang out -- like sports events, concerts, local parks, and SAT prep courses.

 

You can go to their websites and see that energy drink makers sponsor athletes as young as 10 years old, who have lots of young fans.

 

Here is a July 2012 cover for Red Bull’s magazine Red Bulletin. The boy featured on the cover in Red Bull attire is 12-year old Enzo Lopes, a motor cross athlete signed to represent Red Bull.

Companies use highly effective tools to reach young people like video games on their websites, social media, flashy ads, and claims to increase attention, stamina, and help with hydration and building muscle.

 

Contrary to industry claims that they do not market to children, we can see that they do and that it is working.

 

According to a 2011 study, 35% of 8th graders recently consumed energy drinks and 18% drank one or more energy drinks per a day.

 

Here is a photo from an event sponsored by Monster Energy as part of its Monster Army Recon Tour, which moves across the country to identify talented athletes, including children under 12 years old. 

This photo features kids as young as 7 who won a local competition sponsored by Monster.

 

It is hard to believe claims that Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar do not market to children when images like this show active campaigning to introduce their brand to children and adolescents.

 

Marketing to Adolescents

 

When energy drink makers say they do not market to children, they mean they do not market to kids 12 and under.   This image clearly suggests marketing to children, but I want to make a separate point -- I am also deeply concerned about marketing to adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18.

 

Public health experts across the country have stated concerns about the health risks of highly caffeinated beverages for adolescents.

 

Last month, the American Medical Association adopted a policy supporting a ban on the marketing of energy drinks to adolescents under the age of 18.

 

I have joined Senators Blumenthal and Markey to urge energy drink makers to adopt policies prohibiting marketing to adolescents up to the age of 18.

 

Closing

 

Today’s hearing provides an important opportunity to discuss health and marketing concerns raised energy drinks.

 

I look forward to working with my colleagues, public health experts, and industry to take the necessary steps to protect the health of children and adolescents. 

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