top of page
  • Sophie Messenger

Unmasking the Influence of Energy Drink Companies on College Campuses

An advertisement to from Celsius, an energy drink brand, to become a college ambassador for Celsius 

In recent years, the consumption of energy drinks among college students has soared, raising serious concerns about their impact on health and well-being. These highly caffeinated beverages offer a quick boost of energy, making them appealing to students facing academic pressures, late-night study sessions, and demanding social schedules. However, the aggressive marketing strategies and predatory behaviors of energy drink companies perpetrate a growing public health crisis that is disguised by flashy campaigns.

Most energy drinks contain 100-300 milligrams of caffeine per serving, but this number can range up to 500 milligrams. For comparison, a cup of coffee averages around 100 milligrams of caffeine. Additionally, the energy drinks contain high levels of sugar and other stimulants. These ingredients pose significant health risks, especially when consumed excessively. The immediate effects of excessive caffeine intake include increased heart rate and blood pressure, dehydration, and jitteriness. Prolonged consumption can lead to insomnia, anxiety, and even more severe conditions such as chest pain and cardiac arrhythmias. The combination of caffeine and sugar with stimulants, such as ephedrine, guarana, and ginseng, exacerbates these effects, escalating the pharmacological risks to consumers. College students are particularly susceptible to the allure of energy drinks; with hectic schedules and the pressure to excel academically, this demographic is typically vulnerable to stress and sleep deprivation. Thus, many students turn to these beverages as a quick solution to fatigue; a study published in 2016 found that 51% of U.S. college students reported consuming energy drinks at least once a semester, and 36% had consumed one within the past two weeks. However, the short-term energy boost provided by energy drinks often comes at the expense of the long-term health and well-being of consumers. Excessive intake can disrupt sleep patterns, impair cognitive function, and worsen existing mental health issues, ultimately weakening academic performance and one’s overall quality of life.

However, despite these negative health effects, energy drinks are the second most popular dietary supplement among U.S. young adults, falling only behind multivitamins. Additionally, in 2021, the revenue of energy drinks sold worldwide amounted to approximately 159 billion U.S. dollars, and it is projected to increase to just over 223 billion U.S. dollars by 2027. In the US, these products are sold in convenience and grocery stores with minimal oversight by health departments. In addition, energy drinks can be classified as dietary supplements, rather than beverages, and therefore do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, there is less available health safety information on energy drinks, as information about caffeine content and warning labels do not need to be listed with the product information. This lack of information about caffeine content and the health risks associated with these drinks increases the likelihood of certain populations, such as college students, being drawn to the promise of an energy surge. 

Energy drink advertisement campaigns target college students, capitalizing on their susceptibility to these products. Using strategic marketing strategies, such as sponsoring campus events and athletic corporations, these companies promote their products as essential resources for success and vitality. Brands like Red Bull, Celsius, Monster, and Sway Energy Drinks host student ambassador programs for college students across the United States to market their products to younger generations. In particular, Red Bull’s “student marketer” college ambassador program has been recruiting college students for years to promote this beverage. The Red Bull website currently lists 236 student marketer job openings across North America, offering students $16 an hour to promote their products. At Boston University, student ambassadors have been reported distributing energy drinks in university food courts and study areas, placing cases in freshman dorms, and marketing the brand on social media. These direct marketing strategies have heightened the popularity of Red Bull on this campus and exposed many individuals to energy drinks for the first time, escalating the number of young adult consumers. Additionally, the availability of energy drinks in campus convenience stores, vending machines, and even academic buildings further normalizes their consumption among students and supports a cycle of caffeine dependence. 

A photo of college student ambassadors on the RedBull website 

The influence of energy drink companies on college campuses demands urgent action from policymakers, educational institutes, and healthcare professionals. Regulatory measures must be implemented to restrict the marketing and sale of energy drinks to college students. Their bodies and brains are still developing, and the long-term effects of this high volume exposure to caffeine is unknown. Additionally, comprehensive educational campaigns are needed to raise awareness about the risks of energy drink consumption and promote healthier alternatives for managing stress and fatigue. Students can get more sustainable energy from adequate sleep and a nutritious diet. Eating breakfast, hydrating, consuming fiber and whole grains as well as lean protein and nuts, and sleeping 7-9 hours each night can help college students to amass long-lasting energy, reducing the need for energy drinks.

The widespread consumption of energy drinks among college students represents a critical public health concern with extensive consequences. As the mental and physical toll of these beverages continues to rise, it is imperative that we confront the predatory practices of energy drink companies and prioritize the health and safety of these vulnerable populations. By fostering a culture of wellness and perseverance on college campuses, we can empower students to make informed choices and mitigate the harms of excessive energy drink consumption.


bottom of page