Thirteen-year-old Caitlin Fraser fell to the floor during class, the right side of her body paralyzed, her hands turning blue. As she was rushed to the hospital, teachers and family feared a stroke.
“The right side of my face dropped and I was wondering what was going on, then two minutes later my full right side had dropped and I had no sensation down my right side,” Caitlin said.
Later, they would learn that she had suffered from a rare Hemiplegic Migraine—one brought on by caffeine toxicity.
The source: energy drinks.
“I used to buy this drink Emerge every day at lunch from the ice cream van which is parked outside school,” a recovering Caitlin said. Doctors told her to abstain from energy drinks for the rest of her life, that the alternative could prove fatal.
Incredibly, Caitlin used to purchase one-to-two Emerge energy drinks daily from an ice cream truck parked across the street from her UK high school, Coatbridge. Akin to an off-brand Monster, Emerge is brightly colored and costs roughly a dollar, making it irresistible to kids.
Energy Drinks Target Children, with Deadly Consequences
Several studies show that Monster and other energy drink companies target children in their marketing. In 2010, American children saw more television ads for 5-hour Energy than for any beverage but Capri Sun.
The strategy is as financially rewarding as it is physically devastating.
Energy drink sales are higher than ever: $50 billion worldwide in 2015, and expected to hit $60 billion by 2021. The result: from 2007 to 2011, hospital visits involving their consumption doubled, from 10,064 to 20,783.
At least 34 deaths have been linked to the drinks, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (among others) has said for years that caffeine has no place in children’s diets. Caitlin Fraser’s experience further validates that stance.
“The doctors and consultant said if I drink this [Emerge] again I could end up having a cardiac arrest,” Caitlin said.
In 2011, 14-year-old Anais Fournier went into cardiac arrest and died after consuming two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks. Shortly thereafter, 19-year-old Alex Morris passed away under similar circumstances.
Earlier this year, Morgan & Morgan launched an official petition at WhiteHouse.gov calling for more federal regulation of the way energy drink companies market and sell energy drinks to minors. The petition received nearly 3,000 signatures, but the FDA has yet to take action.
Ireland Considering Energy Drink Ban for Minors
Just days after Caitlin Fraser’s story broke, an Irish food safety group called Safefood published a report on the extreme levels of sugar and caffeine found in energy drinks, and the alarmingly high (and rising) consumption rates of young people.
The group said that energy drinks are not safe for children under 16; as a mixer with alcohol; or during exercise. It called for a campaign to raise awareness of the potential health hazards of energy drinks.
Safefood’s Director of Human Health and Nutrition, Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, said, “A typical small 250ml can has sugar levels of six teaspoons per can which is equivalent to a full chocolate bar. The caffeine content is high and drinking two small cans and one small espresso of coffee drives an adult’s daily caffeine intake above recommended levels.”
Numerous Precedents for Ban
There are numerous precedents for such a move in Ireland. In May 2014, Lithuania became the first EU country to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors. In January 2016, neighboring Latvia followed suit, enacting a similar law which will take effect this June.
Energy drinks have met regulation in other parts of the world, as well. In 2015, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) banned energy drinks containing caffeine and ginseng—including Monster Energy—deeming the mixture “irrational and impermissible.”
And in 2013, in response to a spate of energy drink-related deaths and other adverse events, Canada capped the caffeine levels allowed in single-serving beverages at 180 mg. To do so, it forced 28 companies—including Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar, and 5-hour Energy—to reclassify as food products. (They had previously been regulated as “natural health products.”)
More recently, here in the U.S., Middlebury College banned the sale of energy drinks on campus, citing health hazards and links to problem behaviors.