Doctors Call for Halt to Energy Drink Ads to U.S. Youths

A group representing 225,000 U.S. doctors called for a ban on marketing energy drinks, such as those from Red Bull GmbH and Monster Beverage Corp., to youths.

The American Medical Association, in a vote at its annual policy meeting in Chicago, today endorsed a policy that called for limiting how the caffeinated beverages are sold to those younger than 18. The group cited studies that link the drinks to heart problems and reports about emergency room visits by children after consuming the drinks.

“Energy drinks contain massive and excessive amounts of caffeine that may lead to a host of health problems in young people, including heart problems,” Alexander Ding, a physician and AMA board member, said in an e-mailed statement. “Banning companies from marketing these products to adolescents is a common sense action that we can take to protect the health of American kids.”

Caffeinated energy drinks have been marketed heavily to young people despite possible health risks, the doctor’s group said in its resolution. The group called for a temporary ban on youth marketing “until such time as the scientific evidence regarding the possible adverse medical affects that stimulant drinks may have on children and adolescents is determined.”

Greater Scrutiny

Energy drinks have been under scrutiny after being linked to deaths and hospitalizations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has looked into whether the drinks can cause harm when consumed in excess or by young people or those with pre-existing heart conditions. Members of Congress have called for more clarity on the drinks’ ingredients and health effects.

“We are disappointed that the American Medical Association passed this resolution,” said Maureen Beach, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, an industry trade group. “Leading energy drink companies also voluntarily display total caffeine amounts -- from all sources -- on their packages, as well as an advisory statement indicating that the product is not intended (or recommended) for children.”

The AMA provides medical and public health recommendations and lobbies government. Any ban on advertising would have to be legislated or enacted by Congress, state governments or a regulatory agency. The industry could also agree to a voluntary policy limiting marketing.

Monster is the largest U.S. energy drink maker by sales volume. Red Bull, Pepsi Co. and Coca-Cola Co. also market the caffeinated drinks. The doctors’ association specified they weren’t talking about sport drinks such as Gatorade.

Shares of Monster Energy were almost unchanged at $59.63 at the close in New York.

Wide Variety

The AMA considered about 150 policy resolutions at the meeting, including one that formally declared obesity to be a disease, upgrading its status from a condition with a range of causes. The change may affect the way doctors treat obesity and how insurers and the government pay for treatment, according to the AMA. About 1 in 3 Americans is obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue,” Patrice Harris, a physician and AMA board member, said in a statement.

The group also voted to recommend alerting patients to the health risks of sitting down all day, as many office workers do. It called for sitting breaks, use of isometric balls instead of chairs, and other ways of making long-term sitting less harmful to health.

Prolonged Sitting

“Prolonged sitting, particularly in work settings, can cause health problems,” Harris said. “Encouraging workplaces to offer employees alternatives to sitting all day will help to create a healthier workforce.”

The resolution cites a 2006 study of 222,000 Australians that found sitting more than four hours a day, often at work, caused 6.9 percent of deaths. That was after controlling for things such as obesity and physical activity. Other research has determined that sitting or being sedentary most of the day can raise the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer, as well as lower sperm count.

The doctors’ group also backed a resolution urging lawmakers strengthen existing U.S. protections against discrimination based on a person’s genetic information.

Current law doesn’t adequately bar discrimination by disability insurance, life insurance or long-term care insurance, the doctors said. As use of genetic information by doctors becomes more common, patients will need stronger protections, they said.

“Genomic medicine advancements are enabling better individualized patient care, but it is important to make sure that this unique personal information is not used against patients,” William Kobler, a doctor and AMA board member, said in the statement.

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