Senate hearing explores marketing energy drinks to kids

Committee hearing looked into whether energy drink companies' marketing efforts are taking into account health concerns related to youth consumption.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing titled, "Energy Drinks: Exploring Concerns About Marketing to Youth." Committee Chairman Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the hearing was held to learn more about the concerns of pediatricians and other public health experts about the health risks energy drinks could pose to children and teenagers.

Last month, Rockefeller sent letters to four leading energy drink companies to gather information about the way they market energy drinks, particularly to children and teens. The hearing looked at energy drink marketing practices, like promoting young teen athletes and featuring them on social media sites. According to the committee's website, the hearing also explored whether energy drink companies' marketing efforts are taking into account health concerns that some have raised related to youth consumption of energy drinks.

Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives and senior research scientist at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University testified that "many brands appear to have increased marketing in venues where teens are likely to view them." She suggested that regulations to limit the sales and marketing of energy drinks to children under 18 may be warranted.

The hearing featured testimony from three representatives of energy drink industry who all assured the committee that their companies have not and will not market energy drinks to children.

Rodney Sacks, chairman and CEO of Monster Beverage Corp. testified that his company "does not focus its brand initiatives on young teenagers. To do so would undermine the credibility of the brand image in the eyes of young adults." 

Sacks and other energy drink representatives noted that their products include a warning that states, "CONSUME RESPONSIBLY: Not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant women or women who are nursing."

Energy drink industry representatives also testified that their product labels clearly state the ingredients, including caffeine amounts, vitamins, sugars, and amino acids.

Representatives from the energy drink industry used a host of research to demonstrate the safety of their products.

Janet Weiner, chief operations officer and chief financial officer for Rockstar Inc., noted that the use of caffeine in their energy drink formulations has been determined to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) under FDA standards.

Red Bull North America's vice president and general manager, Amy Taylor, noted that a can of Red Bull Energy Drink contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of home-brewed coffee, and about half as much caffeine as many coffee house coffees.

"Any comprehensive effort regarding child and teen nutrition must include all sugar- and caffeine containing beverages (e.g. caffeinated soft drinks, coffee, and tea)," Taylor said. 

Sacks noted that consumption data from the USDA shows that caffeine consumption in the U.S. has remained relatively stable over the past decade, despite the introduction of energy drinks. Taylor noted that caffeine consumption by youth through energy drinks is minor when compared to caffeine consumption from coffee, soft drinks, and tea.


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