Energy Drinks and Children...
...It’s time to draw a line.
This is something that I feel really strongly about. Children do not need caffeinated energy drinks... they provide nothing of any nutritional value for children. Children should not have huge surges of sugar and caffeine, not to mention the other substances added to these drinks. Most of the drink labels do actually say that they are not suitable for children but this doesn’t appear to be having any effect. Children are buying these, sometimes 2 or 3 at a time and often (worryingly) without the parents even knowing that they are doing so.
I remember about 10 years ago, filming in Glasgow and arriving at a school as the children were walking in through the gates, I saw a number of children between the ages of 6-10 years clutching cans of energy drinks (red bull and monster and the like) which I later discovered when chatting to them, was their standard "breakfast' routine. This image stuck with me and I am so pleased that this movement is starting, prohibiting the sale of these drinks to children. Let's also be clear that this isn’t a problem local to Glasgow, that just happened to be where I first saw a child clutching an energy drink. This is happening everywhere. I see children in my local area with cans of energy drink and I am increasingly aware of the visible sale of these cans in shops at reachable child height and often on very obvious promotion; buy 2 get 1 free.
Why should we be worried?
This is a huge problem on several levels:
Nutritional - These drinks contain massive amounts of sugar. For an example, a can of Monster energy drink contains 27g sugar. The maximum daily sugar intake for a 7-10 year old is 24g. This is a huge amount of sugar to drink in one "hit" and it will play havoc with blood sugar levels. Many drinks are also very acidic so can cause problems with dental health.
Behavioural - These drinks contain large amounts of caffeine which very often exceed the safe limit for children. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and increases heart rate and blood pressure. It also has an impact on children’s behaviour and there is an increasing number of people (especially teachers) speaking out about how much these drinks are impacting classroom learning. This brings me to my next point…
Educational - Learning is unlikely to be at its optimal level if children are high on sugar and caffeine. If these children can’t learn and retain information well, chances are their grades will suffer as a result and this is worrying.
Psychological - I have heard recent reports of children saying that they "need" an energy drink to wake them up or to help them focus. These starter signs of feelings that are akin to addiction are becoming more common and we need to be taking this seriously.
What is being done?
Waitrose are leading the way here by banning the sale of these drinks (to those that fall into the 150mg caffeine/l category) to those under 16years of age. Other supermarkets need to follow suit, as do all smaller retailers that perhaps service the children on the walking "school commute" routes.
Most children will have a set amount of money that they are sent to school with by parents/carers. If this money is spent on energy drinks, not only are we dealing with the fall out of the sugar/caffeine, but equally as worrying is the real possibility that they are replacing a nourishing warm lunch with a can of energy drink. This has potentially far reaching consequences including various nutritional deficiencies, not to mention the impact that we know poor diets have on growth and development during this hugely important time in a child’s life.
I could go on and on about this topic but I have made the important points and can only hope that we do see a shift in the legislation of energy drink sales and an increasing awareness of their potential dangers. They are indeed #notforchildren so let's go and shout about this and join the campaign. Hats off to the brilliant Jamie Oliver for pushing yet another invaluable health message.