Should energy drinks be banned to under 16s?

Picture: ARCHANT.

Picture: ARCHANT. - Credit: Archant Norfolk 2010

In her latest column on parenting issues Vicki Cockerill, from Dereham, explores the impact of energy drinks on children...

Vicki Cockerill, parenting columnist. Photo: Vicki Cockerill

Vicki Cockerill, parenting columnist. Photo: Vicki Cockerill - Credit: Vicki Cockerill

Should we ban the sell of energy drinks to under 16s?

It is the current hot topic with teachers, food associations and heavy weight food campaigner Jaime Oliver all weighing in and putting pressure on the government and supermarkets to impose the ban of energy drinks to teenagers.

In this column, I talk about the £2billion pound a year industry, which has been accused of targeting youngsters and the proposed ban of energy drinks to the under 16s. Should retailers be taking responsibility? Should the ban be mandatory in schools and how would it be policed? As parents with our morning coffee routine as we setting the wrong example to our kids?

In the sea of bikes, blazers, bags and ties on the school run the other day I spotted something that seemed to be commonplace and in every other hand of the teenagers walking past me. Not the cheeky cigarette or Greggs breakfast like when I went to school but instead can upon can of different energy drinks were being downed like shots in a club on a Friday night by the walking youngsters.

From the top of Northgate Road to those pouring out of Co Op, to the newsagents and everywhere in between cans of the high caffeinated beverages were being consumed at it was just after 8am. It appears the general stance of the local high schools is to not allow them to be drunk during the day, which is why perhaps they are being downed like water on the way to and likely from school. Now, I am a parent of a seven-month-old baby and a toddler who has more energy than Mr Motivator at 5.30am, I know the need for caffeine I can tell you. But, as a teenager? I don't think I even had a cup of coffee until I was at least 18! With tea only being made for dunking biscuits in.

I am a slight coffee addict, I have not thought of the affect this could have on my boys watching me drink it. I have dabbled with the odd Redbull or two, until I ended up with heart palpitations and had to stop. If a can or two did this to me, a 20-something year old what is it doing to these youngsters? Some of them couldn't look more than 12 years old with the can looking out of place in their hands, they were treating it as if it was a beer down the pub. I wondered how are they acting when they are in school? Bouncing of the walls? Surely these kids do not sleep if they need this pre 9am? Have they been up all night? I cannot even have a coffee past 4pm with it playing havoc with my sleep pattern!

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Research has shown that UK kids are the biggest consumers of the stimulant drinks in Europe. Some schools have begun to ban the drink on premises and supermarket Waitrose are the first supermarket in the UK to impose a ban of sale to under 16s.

As much as we, parents would like to think we are in control of what we presume is going into our child's body as they get older it is harder to control. We rely on retailers to responsibility sell to our children, we would not expect them to go into Tesco and be able to buy vodka, so why on a product that clearly states not recommended for children are they being able to freely purchase it? You could argue that a young teen is not a child as such but in this sense, I think it is clear they are not appropriate for school aged children.

Some as young as 10 are drinking them, with many reportedly now having to rely on them to wake up and function. The high sugar level is also very worrying as well as ingredients such taurine and herbal substances. Do we fully understand what is in one of these? Especially considering you can get a highly concentrated version with around 160mg caffeine to 60ml of 'energy shot'. More children are drinking energy drinks than adults.

It isn't a wonder teenagers are grabbing them on the way to school, it seems they can be picked up for as little as 25p making it cheaper than water. Supermarkets, vending machines and corner shops all stock the vibrantly designed drink which has come to be somewhat of a 'tough' status symbol that entices others to drink it to fit in. That 25p drink can come loaded with side effects such as any stimulant which Gavin Partington, British Soft Drinks Association describes as 'not designed for children'. Headaches, abdominal pain, high blood pressure and insomnia are just a few commonplace symptoms as well as jittery hands and nausea. That is if you are lucky, some are not, and you can end up with irreparable heart damage, and they can even be fatal in high doses.

A teenager from South Carolina, Davis Allen Cripe died last year in his classroom after consuming too many caffeine drinks bringing on a cardiac event. A 2014 study has found 73% of children are consuming some level of caffeine every single day.

Celebrity chef, and turkey twizzler banisher Jaime Oliver has urged parents to tweet the health secretary Jeremy Hunt with the #notforchildren to put pressure on the government to ban the sale of these drinks to under 16s. Teachers' union NASUWT advising they too want the ban after seeing first hand the effect the drinks are having on the children they are teaching. Some teaching staff have reported that they are having to change their lesson plans frequently to cope with the 'highs' of the children in the classrooms, seeing the children having to rely on them to get through the day.

Others have even classed the refreshment as a 'legal high' that could potentially cause a lot of damage and assisting obesity, various cancers and type 2 diabetes, not to mention rotting the teeth of our children.

It is yet to be seen if the government will heed the warning, and impose a ban. Or if a ban is enforced if children can somehow still get hold of them? One parent buys one for their child after much pleading, they pass them on to friends etc? How do we as a nation in 2018 tell a whole generation what they can and cannot drink?

Do you let your teenagers drink energy drinks or know if they do?

Do you agree a school and shop ban should be imposed?

Or do you go to a school which has a ban, or are a teacher who has an opinion?

We would love to hear from you!

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