Three senators are taking manufacturers of energy drinks to task in an ongoing investigation into an industry that they say refuses to commit to adolescent protections. Early this month, US Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) released a new report: “Buzz Kill: A Survey of Popular Energy Drinks Finds Majority of the Market Unwilling to Make Commitments to Protect Adolescents.” The report acknowledges the progress the industry has made toward eliminating marketing and promotional activities that target children under the age of 12 and children in K-12 school settings. However, the report also says companies are blurring the lines between the categories of energy drinks and sports drinks. The senators argue some products are marketed to aid rehydration and electrolyte balance, but also contain high amounts of caffeine and sugar.
In letters mailed by to major energy drink brands, the senators asked them to what extent the companies thought the industry would be able to commit to voluntary measures to better protect younger consumers.
“Unfortunately, a minority of the companies that drive the majority of energy drink sales has refused to make any commitments that would protect teenagers from potentially dangerous marketing and promotional activities,” states the report. “As long as early development of brand loyalty is seen as a competitive market advantage, energy drink companies will continue with the practice of marketing to teens in the absence of a regulation that prohibits it.”
According to a recent study by Technomic, energy drinks saw a significant increase in availability at convenience stores throughout 2014, which contributed to the category’s nearly 23 percent growth in menu items.
In response to the report, the American Beverage Association (ABA) stated their drinks, ingredients and labeling are regulated by FDA, and their advertising is subject to oversight from the Federal Trade Commission.
“This report ignores crucial data about energy drinks and caffeine consumption in the US. Based on the most recent government data reported in the journal Pediatrics, children under 12 have virtually no caffeine consumption from energy drinks,” ABA said. “This study’s findings are consistent with an analysis commissioned by FDA and updated in 2012, as well as a published ILSI survey of more than 37,000 people which shows that caffeine consumption in the US has remained stable during the most recent period analyzed, while coffee remains the primary source of caffeine in most age groups.”
The association said the leading energy drink companies routinely go beyond Federal requirements in terms of labeling and education and have voluntarily pledged not to market these products to children or sell them in K-12 schools.
In the report, the senators suggested FDA and manufacturers take the following steps:
-All energy drink manufacturers should cease marketing energy drink products to children and teens under the age of 18 and sales of these products in K-12 school settings.
-FDA should develop daily caffeine consumption limits for children and adolescents.
-FDA guidelines should be developed for the industry on the voluntary reporting of adverse events associated with energy drinks.
-FDA should define what constitutes an energy drink, sports drink or other “functional” beverages.
-There should be an end to marketing energy drinks for hydration or rehydration following rigorous physical activity.
-Restrictions should be placed on school-based programs regarding the sales of energy drinks.
A copy of the senators’ report can be found here.