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The energy drink revolution


Last updated 1/3/2008 at Noon

Two of the energy drinks pictured contain alcohol: (from left) Monster Energy, Sparks (contains six percent alcohol), Red Bull, Rock Star 21 (contains six percent alcohol), and Rock Star Juiced.

Energy Drinks 101 : Don't be blinded by all the pretty colors

Could it be that the traditional idea of American soda has been reinvented? In the market, next to Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Dr. Pepper and root beer, are brightly colored cans emblazoned with names such as Monster, Amp, Red Bull and Rockstar. These fizzy cousins to the soda family have been dubbed “energy drinks.”

Red Bull, which contains 40 percent less liquid than a can of Coke and twice the amount of caffeine, packs quite a kick.

Energy drink manufacturers credit the “energizing” effect that one feels to the interaction of several ingredients, including caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, ginkgo, and glucuronolactone. Don’t be fooled. As with traditional soda and coffee, caffeine is the main “energizing” ingredient – the others are just fluff.

The first and possibly the most prevalent energy drink on the market is Red Bull, first hitting US stores in 1997.

Since then, according to Mintel International Group, a leading marketing research firm, energy drinks sales have sky-rocketed. Americans spent $3.2 billion in 2006 on energy drinks – a 516-percent increase since 2001.

The same study also revealed that the caffeine craze is predominantly driven by teens and young adults. Thirty-one percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 34 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds report ingesting energy drinks daily, while only three percent of seniors 65 and older report any consumption of the products.

With such success in the marketplace, the financially savvy beer and liquor industry postured themselves to take advantage of a 3.2-billion-dollar industry.

Miller and Anheuser-Busch, the two largest US brewers, entered the energy drink market in 2006. Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewer, announced in 2007 that one of its alcoholic energy drinks will be revamped to contain eight percent alcohol.

The alcohol industry’s choice to augment the caffeine craze is not all that unpredictable. However, their choice to market alcoholic energy drinks in a way that makes them appear as if they are regular nonalcoholic energy drinks is baffling.

By mimicking the exact size, shape, color and graphics of certain nonalcoholic energy drinks, alcohol manufacturers are creating confusion among store clerks, parents and law enforcement agencies over whether an energy drink is alcoholic or nonalcoholic.

Since the statistics show that youth under the age of 21 are the ones driving the energy drink revolution, you have to ponder this: If I saw a 13-year-old walking down the street carrying an aluminum can with colorful graphics, would I be able to tell the difference between an alcoholic and nonalcoholic energy drink?

Also, are the health effects of imbibing a large shot of caffeine (an “upper”) mixed with distilled alcohol (a “downer”) more dangerous for a young teen than an adult?

Over the next several weeks, through the Village News, we will continue to present a series of articles about energy drinks, their content and their impact.

The magnitude of impact on the public health and wellbeing, coupled with the statistics of who is consuming them, was first presented in Fallbrook Healthcare District’s Community Collaborative Committee meeting when Prevention Specialist Myriam Padilla made a presentation on behalf of North Inland Community Prevention Programs, funded by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, Alcohol and Drug Services.

The health risks associated with alcoholic energy drinks will be covered in the next article, “Energy Drinks 102: The myth of the wide awake drunk.”

John Lopez is affiliated with the North Inland Community Prevention Program and Vi Dupre with the Fallbrook Healthcare District. Questions on this article may be directed to Dupre at (760) 731-9187 or [email protected]


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