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Hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee - Energy Drinks: Exploring Concerns About Marketing to Youth


Location: Washington, DC

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on the potential health risks associated with energy drink consumption by children and teenagers, and the extent and nature of energy drink marketing initiatives that are reaching children and teenagers. Ensuring the health of our children is a priority for all of us.

I'd also like to thank our many witnesses for being here today to testify on this issue. Mr. Chairman I don't remember when we have ever had seven witnesses on one panel. Nevertheless, I am sure this will be an informative and lively -- or perhaps I should say, "energetic" -- discussion.

The energy drink industry is remarkably fast-growing, with American sales of energy drinks reaching $8.6 billion in 2012, which is about 12 times their level a decade ago, according to a recent article in the Economist. This rapid growth, however, has contributed to closer scrutiny of the industry and its products.

Concerns about the levels of caffeine in energy drinks -- and the possible effects on children and adolescents who consume these products -- have prompted several studies and investigations. While it is entirely appropriate to examine these issues, we should also consider the broader context regarding caffeinated products.

Caffeine has been consumed for thousands of years, and I am sure most of us on this Committee and in the Senate take advantage of it once in a while to get through our days. It is found in beverages such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks, and in products containing cocoa or chocolate. But, when I hear that caffeine may now be added to products as diverse as potato chips and marshmallows, I have to wonder whether our fascination with caffeine has gone too far.

Some of our witnesses today will also note that certain energy drinks may contain other stimulants, in addition to their caffeine content, and that the combination raises additional concerns. I look forward to the witnesses' discussion on this point as well.

The industry has shared with the Committee that most commonly sold energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similarly sized cup of coffeehouse coffee. For example, we are told that a typical 16-ounce can of one energy drink contains about 180 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. By comparison, I understand that a typical 16-ounce cup of coffee from a coffeehouse contains 330 mg of caffeine.

According to the FDA, most healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, but children can safely only consume between 45 to 85 mg of caffeine per day, depending on their weight.

Few would challenge the statement that children should not be consuming highly caffeinated energy drinks. So, I look forward to hearing the steps that the companies represented here today are taking to ensure their products are safe, as well as the efforts they are undertaking to ensure their products are marketed appropriately.

Protecting the health of our children is very important. I believe it is also important to rely on good science, careful investigation, and accurate evaluations when assessing the possible health risks of energy drinks and other products.

Given the broader context regarding the safety of caffeine and its sometimes significant use in non-energy drink beverages, it also seems appropriate that any discussion of the scientific determinations about safe levels of caffeine should examine the consumption of caffeine from a variety of products, not just energy drinks. I hope that the testimony and evidence put forward today is examined thoughtfully and within that larger context.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding this hearing, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

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