Iowa City Press-Citizen: Students Test Effects of Energy Drinks on Driving

Friday, February 11, 2011

CORALVILLE -- Emily Corr said she noticed many students at West Branch High School recently drinking energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster.

She, along with fellow West Branch High School freshmen Justin Roth and McKenna Lantner, researched the nutrition facts and ingredients found in the highly caffeinated energy drinks, compared with soda and coffee, and found they have quite an effect on people's health.

"The energy drinks have lots of negative effects that outweigh their claim of positive effects," Roth said.

The students, led by former West Branch Middle School teacher Hector Ibarra and calling themselves the Buzz Beaters, now are researching the effects of the energy drinks on people's health and their performance in tasks such as driving a car. They spent Thursday evening at the University of Iowa's National Advanced Driving Simulator mini-simulator testing their theories by drinking the energy drinks and then getting behind the wheel, researching how well they drive.

"We wanted to do a study that proves Monster increases your glucose, heart rate and blood pressure," said Roth, 14, adding that the effects of coming down from a caffeine high is similar to being intoxicated with alcohol. "We wanted to see if it impairs driving skills in new drivers, teenagers."

Armed with the results, which will come from Thursday's work at the driving simulator as well as more testing at the simulator Saturday, the students hope to influence decision makers at the local and state levels. They said they plan to meet with the West Branch School Board to get the drinks banned from campus. They also plan to meet with state legislators Feb. 21 in Des Moines to lobby for a label to be placed on energy drinks warning drinkers of their possible effects.

Paige Roth, Justin's mother, said some students at the high school have as many as three of the 16-ounce energy drinks each day, which has an effect on them.

"The only reasons these aren't regulated is because they're (considered) health products," she said. "These have three times the amount of caffeine soda does."

Ibarra said the students plan to enter the project in the U.S. Army's eCyberMission national science contest.