Energy Beverages: Content and Safety
Energy drinks, once aimed exclusively at athletes, have become a significant force in the worldwide beverage market. They come in a dizzying variety of colors, often feature exotic ingredients — guarana, ginseng, and ginkgo biloba, to name just a few — and aren’t shy when it comes to health claims. Marketers’ efforts to rebrand such drinks as “nutrition beverages” have continued to spur sales growth, though this comes at a time when the content of the drinks is coming under increased scrutiny.
A 2010 review of relevant nutritional studies by the Mayo Clinic, “Energy Beverages: Content and Safety,” aimed to look broadly at the contents of sports drinks, high-energy beverages and liquid supplements, and to explore the health impacts of such beverages.
The review’s findings include:
- Among the 23 separate ingredients contained in four popular energy beverages, the most common ingredient in energy beverages was caffeine (up to five times as much as an 8-oz cup of instant coffee).
- Studies linked oral caffeine intake with immediate rises in blood pressure, stiffening of arteries and faster and harder heartbeats.
- One of the studies reviewed had subjects drink two energy drink cans per day for a week. The study found subjects’ heart rates increased between 5 and 7 beats per minute, and systolic blood pressure increased by 10 mm, suggesting increased risks to people suffering hypertension in drinking energy beverages.
- Studies were generally split over the question of performance enhancement from high-caffeine energy drinks. Among physically active university students, no improvement was noted throughout the trials, but in a different study of 12 professional cyclists, a significant improvement in time trials was noted.
The authors state that, overall, the benefits of such drinks on exercise outcomes are at least questionable and there exists negative short-term health impacts in consuming highly caffeinated energy beverages.
Tags: consumer affairs, exercise, nutrition, safety
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Mayo Clinic study titled "Energy Beverages: Content and Safety."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Scientists See Dangers in Energy Drinks."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.