The Hattiesburg High student may not have changed the world, but she certainly has changed the way the world’s largest beverage companies do business.
In 2012, the health-conscious Kavanaugh began doing research out of curiosity on one of the ingredients — brominated vegetable oil — in a sports drink she liked. Beverage makers have been using BVO as an emulsifier in citrus drinks to keep the ingredients from separating.
BVO, though, has some health risks. It has been linked to negative effects on brain development, memory loss, rashes, reduction in fertility and disruption of normal thyroid function. It also is a possible carcinogen.
Kavanaugh then used the power of the Internet to bring worldwide attention to what she discovered. She launched a petition drive on the website change.org asking PepsiCo to remove BVO from Gatorade. Two months and 200,000 signatures later, Pepsi agreed.
Then Kavanaugh started a similar petition drive with Pepsi’s main competitor, Coca-Cola, which also used BVO in its Powerade brand and Fresca, among other drinks. Last month, Coke announced it would also replace BVO in all of its products by the end of this year.
Now we don’t know how much a health risk BVO was. It may be one of those things that consumers would have to ingest improbably large amounts of in order to be hazardous to their health.
But the bigger lesson here is what can be accomplished if you believe you can make a difference.
As Kavanaugh said in an interview with The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, “I think the thing that holds a lot of people back is they think that they can’t do it. I’m a girl from a small town in Mississippi, and I’m only 17. It shows with the resources we have today, you can really do anything you want.”