WASHINGTON – Executives from Red Bull, Monster Beverage Corp. and Rockstar, Inc. defended their products and marketing practices during a U.S. Senate Hearing on July 31 to examine the advertising of energy drinks to children.

Each company asserted before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that adolescents and teenagers are not the intended demographic for the products, which the companies noted are safe for consumption by children and lower in caffeine than coffeehouse drinks.

But public health officials at the hearing argued that not only are adolescents and teenagers frequently exposed to advertising for energy drinks through social media, television and sponsored events, but also that consumers may be unaware of the risks associated with consumption of energy drinks, as well as confused about the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks.

“As an adolescent medicine specialist, I have encountered numerous parents who inadvertently encouraged their teens to consume energy drinks to enhance sports performance and were confused or surprised when informed about the health risks,” said Marcie Beth Schneider, a member of the Committee on Nutrition for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The term “energy drink” itself may be misleading, said William Spencer, Suffolk County (N.Y.) legislator, who suggested the products be labeled “stimulant drinks” instead.

“…(The) fact of the matter is that energy drinks, just by the name alone, are a misnomer because they don’t give you energy,” Dr. Spencer said. “But, yet, that is the message that’s being directed at our children, telling them that as we live in a more and more hectic world, and it becomes more and more difficult to find the time to do everything you want to do in a day, here’s the quick solution. … They are not energy drinks. They give you a caffeine high and a sugar high and then you crash. They reduce your performance and add to fatigue.”

While Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar energy drinks each carry a label indicating the products are not recommended for children, the companies refuted claims that their beverages pose particular risks to the demographic.

“Although the current published information provides no evidence that children display increased sensitivities, Rockstar notes that caffeinated Rockstar energy drinks are not intended for use by children…, nor are Rockstar products directly marketed to this population group,” said Janet Weiner, chief operations officer and chief financial officer for Rockstar. “Moreover, contrary to certain inaccurate allegations, our products contain less caffeine than Starbucks ordinary house blend, on a per ounce basis, and our products clearly display the caffeine content from all sources per container.”

Read the full story in the Aug. 13 issue of Food Business News.