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Energy drinks and heart disease

Say Communications analyses the link between energy drinks and heart disease and how the issue has been covered in the media.
Last year I noticed that Red Bull had doubled the size of its cans to 500ml in an attempt to keep up with the energy drinks arms race between companies such as Monster and Relentless.I tried out several of these brands last year to see what the effect would be (I’m not usually a consumer) and found that they gave me some quite unpleasant side effects – a racing heart and difficulty sleeping at night. Glancing at the nutritional content also showed that what I was drinking was quite bad for me – one can ofMonster provides 1000% of an adult’s RDA of vitamin B12, for example – but studies into the negative effects of these drinks, and their active ingredients, are sparse.This week, research in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology hit the papers in the UK for claiming that these drinks can trigger heart problems in healthy teenagers if not consumed in moderation (i.e. no more than one drink per day).Cardiologists in Madrid said that energy drinks can trigger sudden hard attacks and erratic heartbeats in young, apparently healthy people, and that for those with diagnosed heart disorders there is a risk of the drinks triggering sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS).One of the culprits behind these effects is caffeine. The researchers stated that energy drinks often contain high amounts of labelled caffeine but also contain hidden caffeine in ingredients such as guarana which has double the caffeine of coffee beans.Evidence suggests that a child under 12 could be poisoned if they consume more than 2.5mg of caffeine for every kilogram of their body weight – so 50mg of caffeine a day is enough to poison an average six year old. A 250ml can of Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine, and a 500ml can of Monster Energy drink contains 160mg of caffeine, so on this evidence, the risks to youngsters are clear.Do we need to do more to regulate of prohibit energy drink intake for younger children? Teaching union the NASUWT says that teachers have reported concerns about the effects of caffeine and sugar on their pupils (equating them to legal highs) and the union is now working with drug and alcohol charity Swanswell to examine the effects of energy drink consumption.However, if these drinks are banned in schools, will this just push children towards increased coffee consumption to fill the gap left by the likes of Red Bull? If so, perhaps there’s a case for stopping children drinking them in the first place and ban energy drinks for the under-fifteens? With the war on sugar raging and energy drinks being a prime culprit for children’s over-consumption, there’s probably never been a better time to bring a ban in.From a PR perspective there seems to be a disconnect between stories in the news highlighting the damage that energy drinks can do to consumers, and responses from their manufacturers. An article on The Drum  website in 2012 criticised Monster’s reaction to the deaths of five people, ostensibly after consuming its products, saying that the company hadn’t followed the crisis management mantra of “tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth”. This however raises an interesting clash between best-practice PR strategy and legal requirement, as any disclosure or admission of fault, whilst potentially placating the media and consumers by proxy, might also weaken a company’s position regarding defending against litigation. In these cases, energy drinks manufacturers seem to be erring on the side of caution, sacrificing good PR to minimise the risk to their legal position. Unfortunately from a PR perspective this makes good business sense.

22nd April 2015



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