Hasheel Lodhia & Anmol Lamba
Q: Is it ethical for McMaster University to sell energy drinks on campus during exam season, despite the alleged health risks?
ANMOL: McMaster’s examination period will soon be upon us. As students tackle a demanding course load, they have to deal with another one of university’s realities – sleep deprivation. In this precarious state, it becomes simple to turn to methods that allow you to stay awake for longer periods of time, a very common method being energy drinks. I believe the university should not sell energy drinks in its dining locations for various reasons.
While energy drinks may be safe in moderation, there are many potential risks that students are generally uninformed on, chief among them being the effect of caffeine on the human body. The caffeine content of most energy drinks (Red Bull, Rockstar) is 3 to 3.5 times more than the caffeine content of regular cola drinks (Coke, Pepsi) per volume of liquid. So while these drinks are just as available as any other beverage, their effect is a lot more severe. Ingesting too much caffeine can lead to caffeine intoxication, which can result in restlessness, anxiety, irritability, fidgeting and insomnia, among other, more serious effects. As these differences between energy drinks and other beverages are not made explicit, I feel that the average student is simply not informed enough on what should be the proper dosage of energy drinks. The positive connotation that the term “energy” only serves to further distort the potential medical risks that come with the drinks.
HASHEEL: I disagree. Several cups of coffee carry the same amount of caffeine as an energy drink. More people drink at least one coffee a day than those who drink energy drinks because it is more socially acceptable and available on campus. Not just that, but it is mostly at night, when coffee isn’t readily available, that students resort to these drinks. In fact, 400 mg of caffeine per day carries little evidence of health risks and even provides some benefits such as preventing type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and liver diseases (which would probably be the most beneficial to university students).
The most common reason adults drink energy drinks is because they have been or plan to be alert for an extended amount of time. The body can lose a great amount of vitamins and fluids that are essential for proper functioning. Further, these drinks are designed to be incredibly easy to digest by the body and pass through the system with no traces or negative effects.
A: Caffeine may have potential benefits, but these benefits are often only applicable under a controlled dosage. My primary concern is that students will greatly exceed this dose with continued use of energy drinks as they attempt to survive a university lifestyle. One does not absolutely need energy drinks to accommodate the needs of their study schedules. The scores of students that do not use energy drinks are a testament to this statement. A proper sleep schedule can be achieved through balanced priorities, where free time during the exam period can be used to catch up on sleep or studying and habits such as partying, gaming and television can be put on hold. A proper studying technique can also be achieved by beginning to study sooner rather than later, allowing all the material to be covered in a paced manner. I realize that these lifestyle changes are easier said than done, but I feel that energy drinks only serve their purpose as a last resort to cram for exams. By selling energy drinks, McMaster is condoning the use of this last-minute studying. The availability of energy drinks on campus makes them more accessible to students, and students fall into habits that promote an irregular schedule, fuelled by procrastination and Red Bull.
H: Your point about wasting time is irrelevant. Suddenly banning the sale of energy drinks on campus is in no way going to change the amount of partying, video gaming or hours spent watching Community. Students will just find other means of staying up at night studying, as it is a common and often necessary part of the “university life” you so frequently bring up. Second, selling a product on campus does not necessarily mean McMaster condones its regular use. In fact, in every single food venue on campus, McMaster sells bulk amounts of candy, more so than they do energy drinks. We trust students to not eat candy for every single meal of the day so why don’t we trust these adults with caffeine? Many energy drinks offered on campus are sugar-free, providing students with healthier choices.
On-campus energy drink prohibition does not solve anything. We are just forcing students to relocate their source of quick forms of energy: off campus. Actually, upon further thought, what else can students acquire off campus, with about as much ease as it takes to walk to the nearest convenient store? Mind enhancing drugs such a Ritalin and Adderall can have even better effects on their late-night studying than simple caffeinated drinks. It does not make sense to ban energy drinks right across from the two on-campus bars that offer specials on Jagerbombs.
A: While it is true that other unhealthy foods are also sold on campus (such as candy), a lot of these foods already come with a social stigma of being a fatty food and general knowledge that they should be consumed in low amounts. Energy drinks don’t necessarily have this stigma, at least not to the same degree as other common fatty foods, even though they might be equally damaging, if not more. Thus, it makes sense to single out energy drinks as a potential issue in the University.
As for the point about serving Jagerbombs at TwelvEighty or the Phoenix, students don’t frequent these specialized establishments in the same way that they do Centro, La Piazza, Bridges or Bistro. They aren’t consistently exposed to Jagerbombs as they frequent these other locations, often with the hopes of finishing their mandatory, overpriced meal plans. With concerns over Ritalin and Adderall, the University does not directly sell it, and cannot thus be held responsible for its eventual use. The University’s responsibility towards energy drinks is far more involved as it directly sells them.
As energy drinks are made accessible to students, the long term effects of continued caffeine intake must be considered by the university. Students could potentially develop an addiction to energy drinks as they begin to develop a tolerance level over the years, which brings about the issue of overdosing. Other health detriments may also accompany this addiction, such as the effects of caffeine intoxication mentioned earlier.
H: As mentioned earlier, what about coffee? It has a very similar impact as energy drinks. Wouldn’t a more reasonable solution to your problem be to make coffee more available at night time so students don’t need to consume all the sugar, guanine, ginseng, etc? I don’t agree that caffeine is an “easy way out”. It does not allow students to concentrate more or to do better on their exams. The hard work and studying must still be done. In fact, lack of sleep from an all-nighter of studying has proven to be more detrimental for grades than spending the same amount of time getting at least one REM cycle in. All students know and experience what an all-nighter can do, therefore they should have the right to willingly take the risk of staying up to study.
I am not denying the facts and saying that these drinks are good for you. However, I am arguing that university students are old enough to make their own decisions about caffeine in the same way that they are old enough to make their own decisions about alcohol and tobacco. McMaster does not need to deal with issues like this. I think it is much more beneficial to focus our energy on educating students about alcohol and drug use, or even the misuse of mind-enhancing drugs such as Adderall.