Energy Drinks Target Young Men, with Lucrative and Lethal Results

Energy drinks close up

The number of emergency room visits involving energy drinks more than doubled between 2007 and 2011—from 10,064 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011. A lesser known fact is that young men are especially vulnerable to energy drink advertising, and consequently, these drinks’ crippling health effects. Notably, of the 20,783 ER visitors in 2011, 14,905—nearly 75%—were men. About the same number—14,051—were aged 18 to 39.

A recent study by the International Journal of Cardiology, meanwhile, looked for a correlation between energy drinks and patients with heart palpitations.

Sure enough, 36% had consumed an energy drink within 24 hours of being rushed to the ER. These patients were deemed otherwise healthy and not at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, meaning the energy drinks were indeed the toxic X factor.

Even more damning, patients who consumed two or more energy drinks a day had a significantly higher occurrence of heart palpitations. Researchers explained that “fast heartbeat, heart palpitations and chest pain was seen in energy drink consumers who were healthy and had no risk factors for heart disease.” This echoes a November 2015 study by the American Heart Association, which found that drinking a single 16-ounce energy drink raises blood pressure and doubles stress hormones in young, healthy adults.

This is especially troubling news given that, according to the CDC, more than one-third of 18-to-24-year-olds down energy drinks on a regular basis.

Which, unfortunately, is exactly how the energy drink industry likes it.

How Energy Drink Companies Exploit Young Men

Taking a cue from Big Tobacco, Big Energy has long targeted not just teens and preteens but 18-to-35-year-old males, with deadly efficiency. They do so by enlisting a star-studded roster of athletes, and by exploiting young men’s desire to be more masculine and powerful.

Monster Energy—the world’s second most profitable energy drink, after Red Bull—sponsors dozens of athletes across the testosterone-fueled worlds of motocross, mixed martial arts (MMA), extreme sports, even professional poker and bull-riding. Their roster includes MMA fighter Conor McGregor (age 27), motorcycle racers Eli Tomac (23) and Josh Brookes (32), and wakeboarder Kevin Henshaw (29). Red Bull and Rockstar follow similar blueprints, with devastating physical and psychological effects.

According to a November 2015 study published in Health Psychology, young men consume energy drinks because they want to be more masculine and “perform better”—a direct result of the male-oriented advertising and sponsorships outlined above. But, far from boosting energy or strength, the energy drinks succeed only in triggering anxiety and disturbing sleep (among other side effects). Researchers conclude that the study “adds to the literature on potential negative health implications” of energy drinks by severely misleading young men about the health outcomes of energy drink consumption.

Psychologists note that these companies prey upon young men’s insecurities in the same way that diet companies prey upon young women’s anxieties over beauty. While most young women wish they were thinner, most young men wish they were bigger, stronger, faster. So if an MMA fighter like Conor McGregor has “MONSTER” plastered across his cap, they will go out and buy a can.

And boy, oh, boy, are they are buying.

Despite Health Risks, Energy Drink Profits Hit $50 Billion Mark in 2014

While soda sales continue to flounder—in an October 2015 New York Times article, “The Decline of ‘Big Soda,’” Margot Sanger-Katz called plummeting soda consumption “the single largest change in the American diet in the last decade”—energy drink profits are soaring, hitting $49.9 billion (that’s billion, with a B) in 2014. American sales now total more than $12.5 billion alone, and, according to research firm Packaged Facts, that number will approach $20 billion by 2017.

Red Bull—the industry leader, available in 167 countries—sold 5.6 billion cans in 2014; Forbes ranks it the 76th Most Valuable Brand in the world. Monster—which Coca-Cola bought a 17% stake in last year—is sold in 114 countries, with a $2.5 billion revenue and a stock that has outperformed PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, and yes, Coca-Cola over the past five years. Rockstar had $821 million in U.S. sales in 2013, while 5-Hour Energy shots generated $725 million in 2015.

The numbers don’t lie: energy drink companies target young men with alarming efficiency—and with zero regard for their consumers’ well-being. They can’t see past the dollar signs in their eyes to the disturbing surge in emergency room visits, the heart palpitations, chest pain, anxiety, insomnia, kidney failure, and other severe side effects.

The irony, of course, is that young men guzzle energy drinks because they associate them with vigor, power, and athleticism. But in the end, these drinks only serve to weaken and even threaten their bodies’ performance.