Would you let your child drink two coffees, each containing up to ten sugar cubes, before school every day?

30th August 2018

Would you let your child drink two coffees, each containing up to ten sugar cubes, before school every day?

For any responsible parent, the answer is no – yet, tens of thousands of youngsters are regularly consuming the equivalent amount of caffeine and sugar in cans of energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Relentless.

So it seems entirely sensible that the Government is considering introducing a ban on the sales of energy drinks to children. A consultation on how to implement the proposed ban was unveiled today, with the principal focus on whether purchasing restrictions will apply at 16 or 18.

The Government’s statistics are stark: two-thirds of children aged 10 to 17 and a quarter of six to nine-year-olds consume energy drinks.

The high level of caffeine has been linked to a string of health problems for children, including head and stomach aches, as well as hyperactivity and sleep problems.

Meanwhile, the effect on children’s ability to concentrate in the classroom is also a cause for serious concern. The teachers’ union NASUWT has previously called for a ban on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s, describing the beverages as “legal highs” that fuel bad behaviour in schools.

And the problem is particularly acute in the UK, where cheap prices mean that consumption by British children is estimated to be 50% higher than in other European countries. In some outlets it is possible to buy four 250ml cans of energy drink for £1.

Public Health Minister Steve Brine said: “We all have a responsibility to protect children from products that are damaging to their health and education, and we know that drinks packed to the brim with caffeine, and often sugar, are becoming a common fixture of their diet.

“Our children already consume 50% more of these drinks than our European counterparts, and teachers have made worrying links between energy drinks and poor behaviour in the classroom.”

A 250ml can of Red Bull contains about 80mg of caffeine, roughly the same as a similarly sized cup of coffee, but three times the level of Coca-Cola. Monster Energy, which is often sold in larger cans of 500ml, contains 160mg of caffeine.

Energy drinks often also have higher levels of sugar than soft drinks. According to government figures, sugared energy drinks have 60% more calories and 65% more sugar than normal soft drinks, wit sugar one of the largest causes of obesity.

Nearly a third of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer, according to the Government’s obesity strategy.

Aside from the health implications, the economic cost is also great. The UK spends more each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than on the police, fire service and judicial system combined.

The announcement of today’s consultation follows the introduction of the ground-breaking sugar tax on soft drinks, which came into force in April, and is further evidence of an increasingly interventionist approach by the Government towards childhood obesity.

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