Washington, D.C.—In response to the growing number of adverse events related to energy drinks (especially from teens), three politicians—Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)—investigated several companies that market energy drinks. The results of this investigation, released on April 10, revealed a label discrepancy between similar products on the market, false caffeine disclosure, and a youth-focused marketing campaign designed to emulate alcoholic beverages.

Markey, Durbin and Blumenthal sent out a questionnaire to the makers of 14 energy drink brands in hopes of receiving information about the decision-making process behind labeling a product as a conventional food or a dietary supplement, the ingredients in the products, caffeine levels and serving size, studies that support the beneficial claims of the products and their marketing campaigns.  Only two companies, 5-Hour Energy and Sambazon, did not respond.

According to the report, even though “the [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)] does have the authority to regulate both conventional foods, referred to in this report as ‘beverages,’ and dietary supplements, the requirements for ingredients, manufacturing processes, reporting of adverse events and labeling, differ depending on whether the product is marketed as a beverage or a supplement.”

Four of the investigated companies label their products as liquid dietary supplements, whereas the others are marketed as beverages. The group pointed out that two companies (Monster Beverage and Rockstar) recently changed classification for their products from supplements to beverages; these companies have nearly identical products marketed as both categories, which is troubling from a regulatory perspective, the group believes.

A key point of contention for the politicians was that one brand didn’t disclose caffeine content on all its products. In addition, some brands have more caffeine than previously thought to be safe by FDA, which is 71 milligrams of caffeine per 12 ounces. The report states, “The caffeine count varies widely between the energy products surveyed, and in many cases is not disclosed on the product label. In cases where it is disclose, companies vary in the way they present this information.” Some companies only reveal the amount of caffeine that is in one serving size, even though there are several servings in one can. In contrast, companies like 5-Hour Energy and Arizona compare their caffeine amounts to that of other products like coffee.

The report also accuses the energy drink makers of making unsubstantiated function claims, such as a product “energizing,” offering “50% more focus,” and promising “stimulated metabolism.”

The final point covered in their investigation is also the most passionate. The report cites a joint claim from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness that says “rigorous review and analysis of the literature reveals that caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”

While the companies deny ever marketing their products to children, the report says otherwise. Monster Energy and Rockstar Energy sponsor young athletes to appeal to a young demographic. The report also states that Monster rewards high school athletes with the “Monster Energy Drink Player of the Game” award. Upon winning this prize, these students are photographed holding Monster Energy. Red Bull also engages in similar practices.

Senator Durbin has been an outspoken opponent of energy drinks, issuing warnings to companies that market to children. “While the FDA is undertaking a review of energy drink safety, it’s time energy drink companies stop marketing to children and start making meaningful changes to their labels that clearly show these are not your typical sugary drinks.”



Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2013 (online 4/18/2013)