Solution Proposal Mitch Vollhaber

Writer's Memo

I found this part of my paper to be particularly interesting:
I found the part that talks about the changes that need to be made in order for the FDA to better regulate energy drinks to be particularly interesting.
This part was surprisingly difficult:
I thought that finding counterarguments for the solution to be surprisingly difficult.
Next time I would do this differently:
Next time I think I would try to find more sources in order to strengthen the credibility of my paper.
Then, spend a couple of minutes reflecting on your process in writing.
I think the process of writing this paper went well. I was able to easily transition from the work I did for the annotated bibliography right into the arguing cause assignment. As well as from the arguing cause assignment into the solution proposal. Since I was able to build off of each assignment, it made the solution proposal fairly easy to write and I think it turned out pretty good.


Using Warning Labels to Educate Consumers About Energy Drink Risks

In today's world, we live in an environment where it seems like there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish all the tasks that need to get done. This leads to most people not getting the amount of sleep they need each night. To make up for that loss of sleep, it is becoming more popular to turn to energy drinks to provide an extra boost during the day. As the consumption of energy drinks becomes more popular, the frequency of hospital visits related to energy drinks increases as well (Gunja and Brown 46). There have been reports of increased strain on the heart in some individuals after consuming only one energy drink, potentially leading to severe problems in individuals with existing heart conditions or with a history of heart problems (Energy drinks alter heart function, study shows). Consumers are ending up in the hospital after consuming energy drinks because the proper labeling does not exist to warn buyers of the potential risks. The current warning labels on most energy drinks warns that women who are nursing or pregnant should not be drinking the beverage due to the caffeine content. This is a good start, but it says nothing about the severe effects it can have on the heart. In order to properly educate consumers, there needs to be a warning label added that states this product can have severe effects on the heart in some individuals including cardiac arrest.

An energy drink is a caffeinated beverage that is marketed as an energy boost. They are becoming more and more popular in supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere. In a recent study by Gunja and Brown, they explained the energy drink situation as:

The new millennium has ushered in a wave of synthetic, caffeinated high-energy drinks targeted at the youth market. Over the past 10 years, the consumption of caffeinated beverages intended to “energise” has increased significantly. Energy drinks were recently shown to comprise 20% of the total convenience store beverage market, with “Red Bull” and “V” accounting for over 97% of sales in this multimillion-dollar industry. Increasingly, toxicity from caffeine overdose is being reported to hospitals and poisons centers (46).

With the substantial increase in energy drink consumption and the corresponding increase in hospital visits, the lack of knowledge involving the side effects from energy drinks must be addressed. The general public is not aware of the risks they are exposing themselves to every time they consume an energy drink. A parent may purchase their child an energy drink mistakenly thinking they have health benefits, while in reality they are actually exposing their child to health risks because advertising campaigns have convinced them otherwise.

Many people believe that the cause of these hospital visits is due to a lack of moderation on behalf of the buyer. Perhaps an individual could have avoided a trip to the hospital if only they had consumed one energy drink instead of drinking three consecutively. On the other hand, the same individual may have ended up going to the same hospital visit after drinking only one energy drink. Without knowing the details of an individual's heart health, there is no way of knowing how the ingredients in energy drinks may effect them. According to the Caffeine Informer, "despite a number of alarming reports of overdose in recent years, for most people energy drink consumption is fine in moderation" (Energy Drink Side Effects). It is important to note how they use the phrase "most people". What about the minority of people who consume energy drinks in moderation and still suffer from side effects? Just because some of the most severe side effects from energy drinks are relatively rare, that does not mean that they can simply be ignored.

The side effects from energy drinks on the heart can be more severe than just a slightly elevated heart rate. As noted in an article in Pediatrics, " although healthy people can tolerate caffeine in moderation, heavy caffeine consumption, such as drinking energy drinks, has been associated with serious consequences such as seizures, mania, stroke, and sudden death" (Seifert et al. 512) . Consumers of energy drinks are ending up with serious side effects because they are not made aware of the potential health risk by the manufacturer. Sales of energy drinks would not be as high if there was a statement on the can warning the buyer that this product may cause sudden cardiac arrest. Obviously, the corporations selling these energy drinks are not going to willingly increase the amount of warning labels on their cans since they could see a large drop in sales. It is clear that these companies are more concerned about profit margins than the safety of the consumers who buy their product.

There are many other side effects associated with energy drinks that may not be life threatening but may make some consumers uncomfortable or at the very least annoyed. Researchers from Australia found that the top ten most commonly reported side effects from energy drinks were: palpitations, tremors, restlessness, gastrointestinal upset, chest pain, dizziness, paraesthesia, insomnia, respiratory distress, and headaches (Gunja and Brown 48). This list was compiled using seven years of call data from a poison control center. While some of these side effects are less severe than others, consumers have the right to know about these health risks before they purchase a particular energy drink.

The concerns surrounding the health effects of energy drinks are even more alarming when the average age of people ending up in the hospital is revealed. In the study where seven years of call data were examined from the NSW Poisons Information Center, researchers found that "Typically, recreational users were adolescents or young adults. Median age was 17 years" (Gunja and Brown 47). It is the children that are suffering the most from the clear lack of regulation surrounding the energy drink industry. Perhaps adolescents would still choose to consume energy drinks even if they are aware of the risks, but the current lack of public knowledge is preventing parents from making the right choice when choosing what to allow their children to drink and what not to drink.

Why are energy drinks more dangerous than a typical caffeinated coffee beverage? Energy drinks have a lot more ingredients, some of which have not been thoroughly researched, than a coffee drink which is usually just water strained through crushed coffee beans. Ingredients such as Inositol and Glucuronolactone are used in energy drinks while Inositol has "been used to treat certain psychiatric disorders" (Energy Drink Side Effects) and the safety of Glucuronolactone is still debated upon (Energy Drink Side Effects). It is unclear why energy drink companies would use an ingredient in their product that is also used to treat mental disorders, but it sure does not sound like something that needs to be in a drink that is easily accessible to children. As far as Glucuronolactone, if there is any doubt about an ingredient's safety, then it should not be used in the production of a product. These are the types of ingredients that you would not find in a average coffee beverage. According to Dr. Dorner from the Substance abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "Usually energy drinks contain taurine and caffeine as their main pharmacological ingredients. The amount of caffeine is up to three times higher than in other caffeinated beverages like coffee or cola" (qtd. in "Energy drinks alter heart function, study shows"). Even without the added ingredients like Inositol and Glucuronolactone, the amount of caffeine in these energy drinks is enough to induce strong side effects in certain individuals.

Current policies and regulations are preventing the Food and Drug Administration from getting the information about potential side effects of energy drinks out to consumers. It seems that the companies that produce energy drinks have found loop holes in the policies that regulate consistent labeling. In a study performed by Jennifer Pomeranz and her colleagues on the public hazard of energy drinks, they noted that the " US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations contain certain requirements for beverage labels but not all manufacturers of energy drinks designate their products as ‘beverages’, thus labels are inconsistent across companies" (3). The idea that energy drink companies are able to classify their products as anything other than a beverage is a huge concern. These are drinks that are being consumed increasingly more frequently by children, adolescents, and young adults (Seifert et al. 512). Until all energy drinks are actually considered a beverage, the Food and Drug Administration has their hands tied when it comes to what they can do about the inconsistent labeling found on the cans of energy drinks.

Currently, energy drink companies place a warning label on each can that warns pregnant or nursing women not to drink their product. This is a good start since it is well known that caffeine intake by nursing or pregnant women can cause adverse effects on infants. If a second warning label was added that stated this product can have severe effects on the heart in some individuals including cardiac arrest, then consumers would be better aware of the risks they may be taking the next time they purchase an energy drink. The education of consumers is the best way to reduce the amount of individuals ending up in the hospital each year due to energy drink related incidences. When it comes down to it, the consumer is responsible for the final decision of whether or not to buy a specific product. If the average consumer is better aware of the possible consequences from energy drink consumption, they may choose to avoid buying them all together. There may be a lot of resistance from the energy drink companies since the new warning label could cause a reduction in energy drink sales, but it is very important that the average consumer is not left in the dark when it comes to the side effects of energy drinks.

Without adding new mandatory labeling on each energy drink can on every store counter across the country, consumers would not have the proper information to make healthy choices when purchasing beverages. In an article out of the Journal of Public Health Policy, the authors state that "ER data from visits involving energy drinks, show these products may be regarded as not reasonably safe without warnings" (Pomeranz et al. 11). This statement supports the urgent issue with the lack of labeling in the energy drink industry with evidence that comes right from the emergency rooms where these claims start. Adding a new label to what already exists on most energy drink cans is the best solution to effectively educate prospective buyers in a timely manner.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for making changes to policies that regulate the labeling of products. At this point, some energy drink companies do not even consider their products to be a beverage which reduces the amount of regulation the Food and Drug Administration has over their product. Another major issue is that before any regulatory changes can be made, the Food and Drug Administration must prove that the product is actually the cause of the adverse effects. As of now, the Food and Drug Administration have not came to a conclusion on the issue but did release the following statement.

FDA cautions consumers that products marketed as “energy shots” or “energy drinks” are not alternatives to rest or sleep. It is important for consumers to realize that, while stimulants such as caffeine may make one feel more alert and awake, judgment and reaction time can still be impaired by insufficient rest or sleep. If you are thinking about taking one of these products, please consult your health care provider to ensure that you don’t have an underlying or undiagnosed medical condition that could worsen as a result of using them (Energy "Drinks" and Supplements: Investigations of Adverse Event Reports).

This statement makes it clear that the Food and Drug Administration is concerned about the effects that energy drinks are having on consumers. It is only a matter of time before the Food and Drug Administration find conclusive evidence that energy drinks are in fact the root cause of these adverse effects. Once this happens, new regulations can be put in place that will allow for a new mandatory label to be placed on each can stating that this product can have severe effects on the heart in some individuals including cardiac arrest.

There are some that think banning energy drinks is the best way to reduce the number of energy drink related hospital visits. This strategy is most commonly found in school districts where policies can be more easily passed through committees. For instance, the Klamath-Trinity School District of Hoopa, California banned the consumption of energy drinks via an energy drink policy (Wilking 2). This school district chose to completely ban energy drink consumption on school campuses. This seems like a viable way to reduce the amount of energy drink consumption on a smaller population like a school district where students could be punished for having energy drinks while in school. Issues soon reveal themselves when trying to take such a ban and applying it to a state wide ban or even a country wide ban. It would be unrealistic for a government entity to ban consumers from a product when the severe side effects influence only a small percent of the population. The use of a new warning label on cans would be able to educate consumers while refraining from the use of a more controlling government.

Another strategy used by some school districts is to use policies to simply discourage the consumption of energy drinks in an effort to be more nutritiously conscience. A Massachusetts school by the name of The King Philip Middle School chose to establish such a policy. The policy came in the form of an advisory in the student handbook to educate students on the health concerns of energy drinks and to "discourage the consumption of energy drinks" (Wilking 3) while students are on campus. This strategy only effectively educates the students if they actually read the student handbook. The same issue surfaces when trying to use this strategy on a national level. Consumers would only become educated on the topic if they take the time to read about law policies. The information needs to be more easily accessible. A warning label on each energy drink can would allow for this information to be readily available for every consumer who is thinking about purchasing an energy drink.

Some organizations are using larger umbrella policies which effectively ban the consumption of beverages with high amounts of caffeine which essentially bans the consumption of energy drinks. The National Collegiate Athletic Association uses this type of restriction. Caffeine is among the long list of restricted substances that are looked for during their drug screening process (Wilking 6). Including caffeine in the list of restricted substances, the National Collegiate Athletic Association effectively eliminated the consumption of energy drinks since most student athletes would not want to take the risk of triggering a positive drug test. While this is an effective way to control energy drink consumption in college sports, there would be no way to implement such a ban in everyday society where drug tests on consumers would be absurd. The most logical solution to this problem would be to place new warning labels on each can where they will be readily available for any prospective buyer.

The state of Rhode Island also used a similar type of umbrella policy that "prohibits teachers and athletic coaches from providing or advocating the use of performance-enhancing dietary supplements among students" (Wilking 7). By keeping the definition of performance-enhancing dietary supplements vague, the policy is able to include the consumption of energy drinks on the list of restricted supplements. This policy successfully helps educate coaches and student athletes on the harmful effects caused by the consumption of energy drinks. Even though this is a state wide policy, it would be difficult to duplicate this type of restriction outside of sports and sport related activities. Similar to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, it seems that this type of regulation would be irrelevant outside of athletic circles. It would be unrealistic to put a ban on caffeinated products or dietary supplements which leaves increasing warning labels as a viable solution to reduce the number of energy drink related hospital visits.

There are a few other viable solutions to the energy drink crisis outside of increased mandatory labeling. Retail restrictions can be passed at the state and local level of government without necessarily going through the Food and Drug Administration. These restrictions include the establishment of a minimum age requirement to purchase energy drinks, taxing the sale of energy drinks, and prohibiting the sale of the products producing the greatest number of hospital visits (Pomeranz et al. 12). All of these solutions are aimed at reducing the consumption of energy drinks. Since these restrictions would be able to be passed on a state or local level, they may be more easily passed into law since they do not need to go through all the federal red tape that the Food and Drug Administration would have to in order to pass the law necessary to increase labeling. On the other hand, they would not be as effective as a change in mandatory labeling on the federal level since the restrictions would not be country wide. This makes an increase in labeling the best solution to reduce the number of energy drink related hospital visits over these other viable choices.

The work habits in today's world have left a lot of people with some level of sleep deprivation. This lost sleep requires a substitution to keep us productive throughout the day. It is becoming increasingly more common for people to turn to energy drinks as their sleep substitute. This increase in energy drink use has led to an increase in hospital visits due to the side effects that some individuals may experience. Large numbers of people are ending up in the hospital because the public is not aware of the wide array of side effects that are possible while or after consuming energy drinks. The lack of consumer awareness about the side effects of energy drinks will continue to be a problem as long as the inconsistency in the labeling of this product remains prevalent in the energy drink industry. In order to properly educate the common consumer, the Food and Drug Administration must increase mandatory labeling on energy drinks to include the potential adverse effects the product has on some individuals. Until this happens, an increasing number of people will continue to end up in the hospital each year from energy drink related health problems.

Work Cited

"Energy drinks alter heart function, study shows." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International Limited, 2 Dec. 2013. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

"Energy "Drinks" and Supplements: Investigations of Adverse Event Reports." U.S. Food and Drug Admistration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 14 April 2014.

"Energy Drink Side Effects." Caffeine Informer. Exis. 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

Gunja, Naren, and J. A. Brown. "Energy drinks: health risks and toxicity." The Medical Journal of Australia 196.1 (2012): 46-49. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

Pomeranz, Jennifer L., C. R. Munsell, and J. L. Harris. "Energy drinks: An emerging public health hazard for youth" Journal of Public Health Policy (March 2013): 1-18. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Seifert, Sara M., J. L. Schaechter,E. R. Hershorin, and S. E. Lipshultz. "Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults." Pediatrics 127.3 (2011): 511-528. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.

Wilking, Cara. "Energy Drink Policies: Mini-Case Studies." ChangeLab Solutions. 2012. Web. 11 April 2014.


Solution Proposal Peer Review Mitch Vollhaber

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