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Energy drinks: Ban the cans on campus?

Middlebury College officials cite concerns over health, binge-drinking and risky sexual behavior
University Business, April 2016
Some campus officials worry energy drinks contribute to students' risky behaviors.
Some campus officials worry energy drinks contribute to students' risky behaviors.

Vermont’s Middlebury College recently made headlines when officials announced a ban on the sale of energy drinks on campus.

Citing that beverages such as Red Bull, Monster and 5-Hour Energy have been linked to heart, liver and neurological issues, the school has stopped selling those products to students, although it still permits them to be consumed on campus.

School officials also suggested that energy drinks, which are often mixed with alcohol, have been involved in incidents of binge drinking, “high-risk sexual activity” and other unsafe behaviors.

The Federal Drug Administration currently does not have sales restrictions on energy drinks; in fact, beverage manufacturers are not even required to list caffeine amounts.

In 2012, the University of New Hampshire announced an intended ban on energy drinks, only to rescind it a few days later. No other university currently bans the sale of energy drinks, according to the National Association of College and University Food Services.

“Banning energy drinks feels like somewhat of an overreach,” says Mary Cluskey, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Oregon and a registered dietician who studies college student food choices. “Where do you stop? Do you ban coffee, too?”

Caffeine is one of the most studied food substances and has been found to have minimal health dangers in moderate consumption, Cluskey notes. The concentrated sugars in many drinks, including soda, are more of a health threat.

As for risky behaviors, she says, “There’s plenty for college students. Drinking caffeine is about No. 25 on the list.” She points out that students will continue to abuse alcohol, with or without energy drinks.

“Energy drinks are sort of sexy—they are the ‘in’ thingright now,” she adds, suggesting that bans won’t keep the beverages out ofthe hands of students seeking the caffeine jolt to help them “catch up” on school work.

Recent attempts at restricting the sale of energy drinks to minors in Kentucky, New York City, Chicago and Maryland were all unsuccessful. In comparison, Lithuania and the United Arab Emirates both have national bans on the sales of energy drinks to minors.

Data Points

$10.8 billion

—Estimated energy drinks sales in the U.S. in the last year. Source: Mintel

300-400 mg.

— Caffeine consumption per day considered safe (moderate); a single Starbucks Venti (20 oz.) coffee has 415 mg. of caffeine. Source: CaffeineInformer.com

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