Nearly 70% of all 10 to 18 year olds in the UK report drinking energy drinks, with children drinking more than adults. Did you know some of these drinks contain as much as 55g of sugar (14 teaspoons) and 2 shots of espresso per 500ml can?
TV chef and food campaigner, Jamie Oliver, is calling on the government to consider banning the sale of energy drinks to children due to concerns over children’s health. Schools have already started to take action by banning energy drinks on school premises, however more needs to be done to tackle this issue. Jamie Oliver is pledging the government to legally age-restrict the sale of energy drinks in the same way that scratch cards can’t be sold to under-16s.
Last week Waitrose were the first supermarket to take action and announced that they will be banning the sale of energy drinks to children under the age of 16 from the 5th March.
Why are these drinks damaging to children’s health?
Energy drinks are made from a mixture of sugar (or sweeteners) and caffeine, and sometimes other ingredients like taurine, ginseng and B vitamins.
They contain large amounts of refined sugar, unless they are made with artificial sweeteners. One 250ml can of energy drink contains nearly your total recommended daily intake of free sugars (30g or 7 teaspoons). Children are currently consuming too much sugar from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks, and this can lead to health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Around a quarter of five year olds have tooth decay and by the time they leave primary school nearly a fifth of children are obese.
Energy drinks can also contain high levels of caffeine. A 250ml can of energy drink contains around 80mg of caffeine which is similar to a cup of instant coffee and twice the amount in a can of cola. It’s defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, where it’s most notable effect is increasing alertness and reducing fatigue. However, it can also cause irritability, headaches, heart palpitations and increased blood pressure. Adults and children are similarly affected by caffeine however children are more sensitive and can feel the effects for longer. If children regularly drink energy drinks they develop a reduced sensitivity to caffeine, which means the more caffeine they drink, the more caffeine they will need to produce a similar effect.
Jamie Oliver has highlighted the impact energy drinks are having in the classroom. Children are secretly buying energy drinks in the morning and having them for breakfast, as well as having another one later in the day. Teachers are finding it difficult to teach their planned lesson if a number of students turn up to the class having just drunk an energy drink.
What can we do to help?
It’s important children are educated about healthy eating and why energy drinks should not be drunk on a regular basis (if at all). If your child is often tired and regularly drinking energy drinks to perk them up, here are a few tips to increase their energy levels and stop them drinking energy drinks:
• Get at least 9 hours sleep per night
• Eat a nutritious breakfast like porridge, Weetabix, or muesli with fruit, eggs on toast or yogurt with fruit and nuts
• Make sure snacks contain fibre and protein to help keep you full such as a handful of nuts, roasted beans, houmous with pitta bread or carrot sticks, apple and nut butter, hardboiled eggs, and fruit and nut bars
• Drink plenty of water, this can include water flavoured with fruit or sugar-free squash
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet including plenty of fruit, veg and wholegrains
• Find a sport they enjoy or an after school club, often exercise can give you an extra boost of energy
Jamie Oliver is asking you to tweet the Health Secretary, @Jeremy_Hunt, and tell him to ban the sale of energy drinks to children under 16, using the hashtag #NotForChildren.