Energy drink debate at NJ schools

June 16, 2008 5:26:15 PM PDT
One middle school in New Jersey is cracking down on beverages loaded with stimulants. And another principal has issued a warning. The debate is over the popular energy drinks, such as Red Bull and Full Throttle, that are filled with caffeine.

The concern is that they are harmful to young bodies.

It seems to be the first of its kind, as the principal in Hillsborough is taking the lead and paving the way for other schools and legislators.

At issue is young teens and energy drinks. But is the ban fair? Or does it cross the line?

"I play in a band, and I've drank it before shows to just get my energy level up, just to jump around stuff," one student said.

The 16-year-old says he reaches for energy drinks that guarantee a quick pick-me-up, sometimes providing a pop of instant energy. But don't even think of bringing one to Hillsborough Middle School, where the beverages are now banned.

"This was a time when they really seem to start to engage in it," principal Joseph Trybulski said. "And it's also a time in their lives when they're very impulsive. And they tend to overdo things and don't always make the wisest choices."

The students are seventh- and eighth-graders entering their early teens. It is an age Trybulski feels is too young to be consuming so much caffeine and sugar. He told parents in a letter.

"If they're going to have it in the school, it's like they are enforcing that it's OK, and I don't think they should have it," parent Sharon Desantis said.

It's a multi-billion-dollar industry, with a range of products containing loads of caffeine. The drinks have anywhere from 120 to 420 milligrams. An average-size Coke or Pepsi has 35 milligrams. But insiders stressed that the products are designated for adults and are not marketed in schools.

But kids are still exposed to it.

"It's not like Red Bull or any drinks are a necessity you need to have in school," student Erica Barveto said.

In nearby Manville High School, the only beverage students are allowed to bring to school is water. Still, the principal recently noticed something unusual happening. More students needed more visits to the health office.

"Instead of breakfast, they were stopping at the convenience store and consuming one to four of those energy drinks," Manville principal Mary McLoughlin.

She sent a letter home to parents. But is a ban goes too far?

"I want them to do the best that they can possibly do, and perform the best that they can," McLoughlin said. "And I think that these drinks are hindering that."

Trybulski says that since the ban has been put in place, there has not been a single instance of students breaking the rules. He attributes all the recent energy and excitement to the fact that students only have three days of school left.

STORY BY: Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson