Middlebury College, which was recently ranked the fourth-best liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News & World Report, has banned the sale of energy drinks on campus, citing health hazards and “problematic behavior” linked to the drinks. The move may signal a sea change in the way schools regulate energy drinks, as more and more research shows that they should not be consumed by adolescents or in combination with alcohol.
While some students and media outlets derided Middlebury for citing “high-risk sexual activity” in its reasoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that people who mix energy drinks and alcohol are twice as likely to be taken advantage of sexually, to take advantage of someone else sexually, and to ride with a drunk driver.
Ban Could Save Lives
As stimulants, energy drinks mask the effects of alcohol, causing one to drink more than they otherwise would—or should. According to the CDC, “Drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks are 3 times more likely to binge drink (based on breath alcohol levels) than drinkers who do not report mixing alcohol with energy drinks.”
Given the rampant binge drinking on college campuses, and the widespread popularity of Red Bull-and-vodkas, Jagerbombs, etc., the ban will most likely prevent drunk driving incidents and sexual assaults, and could even save lives.
In terms of the ban’s health benefits, dining hall services executive Dan Detora told NBC News, “I see it as the equivalent of banning cigarettes.”
Experiencing severe side effects from energy drink consumption?
Energy Drink Consumers Four Times as Likely to Drive Drunk
One study found that, compared to those who drank alcohol on its own, people who mixed alcohol and energy drinks were four times as likely to think they could drive home. And a survey of 500 students at the University of Michigan showed that students who drank alcoholic energy drinks reported two to three times as many negative consequences (passing out, hangovers, etc.) versus those who stuck to just alcohol.
In 2010, the FDA prohibited alcoholic energy drinks such as Four Loko, which contained the equivalent of four beers’ worth of alcohol and one-to-two cups of coffee.
But in 2011, there were still 2,600 emergency room visits involving alcohol and energy drinks—a testament to the myriad dangers of mixing these substances, each of which is dangerous enough on its own.
Middlebury Not the First to Ban Energy Drinks
Middlebury is hardly the first school to ban energy drinks on campus. Over the past several years, a growing number of K-12 and UK schools have enacted bans, citing health reasons and students’ inability to pay attention. (Incredibly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the sale of energy drinks in K-12 schools.)
Prior to the FDA prohibiting alcoholic energy drinks, numerous universities (including URI, Ramapo College, and Worcester State) outlawed Four Loko on school grounds, citing exactly the kinds of health hazards and problem behaviors that Middlebury did.
More recently, says Dr. Lauri Wright, the University of South Florida (USF) pulled energy drinks from its on-campus vending machines after Dr. Wright and some Health Department students spoke out about the adverse effects energy drinks have on developing bodies.
“I don’t think they should be available in school vending machines, or in concession stands at athletic events,” Dr. Wright says. “I think there has to be some policy in schools and extracurricular activities where these drinks aren’t sold.”
UNH Bans Energy Drinks, then Backpedals
In 2011, after a student was hospitalized in an energy drink-related incident, the University of New Hampshire voted to ban the drinks on campus. But students protested, and UNH President Mark Huddleston delayed implementation “until we can explore the relevant facts and involve students more directly in our decision” (i.e., indefinitely).
Today energy drinks are still sold at UNH—even while the school’s Health Services website warns against the dangers of mixing alcohol and energy drinks, noting that the combination increases the risk of alcohol poisoning, raises heart rate and blood pressure, causes arrhythmias, exacerbates hangovers, and makes drinking more addictive.
“Being able to feel the effects of tiredness, loss of coordination and even passing out or vomiting are the body’s defenses against alcohol poisoning,” the site reads. “If you or your friends experience these sign or symptoms step up and call 911.”
“If You Care What’s in the Product…”
On campuses nationwide, Red Bull caters to students with taglines like, “Nobody ever wishes they’d slept more during college.”
Melissa Robertson, a former student brand manager for the company at East Tennessee State University, says their attention-grabbing efforts included replacing all the Coke products in campus vending machines with Red Bull.
Ms. Robertson says that when students asked what ingredients were in Red Bull, she was trained to respond, “If you care what’s in the product, you probably shouldn’t be drinking it.” She eventually resigned because she was uncomfortable with Red Bull’s marketing tactics.
Middlebury cares what’s in the product: that’s why they banned it.