Saturday, September 29, 2012


During the last few years carbonated soft drinks and other sugary beverages have seen their market progressively shrinking or the growth rate very disappointing. The most pressing issue vis-a-vis their consumption is the presence of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which was linked to development of obesity and health disorders, though no clinching evidence to support this accusation has surfaced yet. Whether it is HFCS or natural sugar, nutritive sweeteners if consumed abundantly can cause undesirable health consequences against which consumers need to be cautious. The very basis of the policy of New York civic authorities to ban sale of over sized sugary beverages is based on the perception that citizens must be restrained at least indirectly from over consuming these "fattening" drinks. Another contentious issue is presence of caffeine in some products like Cola beverages which is claimed to be an intoxicant that can cause damage to children and pregnant women folks. The new breed of drinks being marketed by the Energy Drinks sub-sector of beverage industry has escaped the regulatory regime, especially with regard to caffeine and some of the other ingredients used and its surprising growth is some what a mystery. While the caffeine content is about 3 times more in Energy Drinks as compared to that in soft drinks, the products are usually supplemented with Taurine and B-vitamins and the target consumers are athletes and sports persons, obviously suggesting that energy drinks are helpful in restoring energy and boosting the performance. Though these drinks were having a free run without being challenged by the food safety authorities during the last few years, they are now coming under the scanner after the reported death of a girl due to arrhythmic heart failure after consuming energy drink. Here is a take on these emerging developments.

Energy drinks remain a tiny part of the carbonated soft drinks market, representing just 3.3 percent of sales volume, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest. But while soda consumption has flagged in recent years, energy drinks are growing by leaps and bounds. Last year, sales volume for energy drinks rose by nearly 17 percent, with the top three companies - Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar - each logging double-digit gains, according to Beverage Digest. The drinks are often marketed at sporting events such as surfing and skateboarding, popular among younger people. The levels of caffeine in the drinks have raised worries. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration caps the amount of caffeine in soda to 0.02 percent, there is no such limit for energy drinks. "The FDA could easily say energy drinks are soft drinks," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety. But he noted that the FDA cap was established about 60 years ago, long before energy drinks came to the market. In general, the level of caffeine in energy drinks (160 milligrams in 16 ounces) is about half that in the same amount of brewed Starbucks coffee (320 milligrams), according to CSPI. But compared with soda such as Coca-Cola,energy drinks have more than three times as much caffeine. That could be problematic for younger consumers who may guzzle them without realizing how much caffeine they're consuming, Jacobson said. The other risk is that kids would drink it at parties along with alcohol, he said. As for the other ingredients energy drinks often tout - such as taurine or B vitamins - Jacobson said it's mostly for marketing purposes and that they serve no real function. "They say it serves as a detoxifying agent or that it improves mental performance," he said. "That's malarkey."

Justification for marketing such drinks is based on the fact that brewed coffee provides much more caffeine per drink compared to that ingested through energy drink. What makes the energy rinks more risky is that the major target group is youngsters who rarely take coffee and volume of energy drink consumed tends to be high frequently. Total quantity of caffeine consumed via energy drink could be significantly higher, especially during sports events and athletic gatherings and therefore some sort of regulation needs to be put in place sooner than later. Also claims made because of addition of Taurine and B-vitamins do not make any sense, as they are not based on science or clinical evidence.


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