Do energy drinks market to children?

Yes. By their own admission, most energy drink companies market their products to children as young as 12 (sixth graders). According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, energy drink companies define “minors” as children under the age of 12, for marketing purposes. And an internal Monster Energy marketing document dated in 2009 lists the company’s target audience as those born as late as 2000—nine-year-olds. Consider, too, the “Monster Army,” a program for 13-to-21-year-old athletes who receive sponsorship deals in exchange for representing the Monster brand.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in 2010, children saw more television ads for 5-Hour Energy than for any beverage but Capri Sun. Or that in 2011, a whopping 35% of eighth graders reported consuming an energy drink in the previous year. Or that the number of emergency room visits by 12-to-17-year-olds increased from 1,145 in 2007 to 1,499 in 2011. Some of these children—including a 14-year-old girl named Anais Fournier—died from caffeine poisoning.

In May 2013, the city attorney of San Francisco, Dennis Herrera, sued Monster Energy for targeting children in its marketing, calling it “the industry’s worst offender.”

In 2015—in response to dozens of fatalities, and echoing the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and lawmakers like Dick Durbin—a consumer advocacy group called the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity argued that, like tobacco, energy drinks such as Monster and Red Bull should be sold only to adults 18 and older. The Rudd Center cited a comprehensive 2013 Yale University study, “Energy drinks: An emerging public health hazard for youth,” which states:

A comprehensive analysis of marketing practices and youth exposure to this marketing in the United States confirmed that several energy drink manufacturers market their products using media and techniques aimed at adolescents.4 In 2010, US adolescents saw on average 124 television ads for energy drinks and shots, which is the equivalent of one ad every 3 days.4 This is similar to adolescents’ viewing of regular soda ads (122), and more ads for energy drinks and shots than seen by adults.4 Adolescents viewed 9–16 per cent more ads than adults for three energy drink brands.28 The majority of energy drink ads viewed by adolescents appeared on youth-targeted cable networks including Adult Swim (80–90 per cent more adolescent than adult viewers), MTV and MTV2 (88–199 per cent more adolescent viewers), and Comedy Central (20–30 per cent more adolescent viewers).28

The study also noted that energy drink manufacturers frequently sponsor extreme sports events and have a robust presence on digital media—both platforms have a disproportionately strong appeal to adolescents versus adults. “As a result,” the authors note, “children in the United States saw on average 62 energy drink and shot ads in 2010, which is on par with the number of ads they saw for the children’s drinks Capri Sun and Kool-Aid.

In February 2016, Orlando-based law firm Morgan & Morgan launched an official petition at WhiteHouse.gov calling for more federal regulation of the way energy drink companies market and sell highly caffeinated beverages to minors.