The United Kingdom is planning to ban the sale of energy drinks, such as Red Bull and Monster Energy, to kids amid growing concern about the beverages’ high levels of sugar and caffeine.
The government is still hammering out the details, such as whether the ban will apply to those who are ages 16 or 18, but the goal is to prohibit youth from buying drinks containing 150 milligrams of caffeine or more per litre.
The news of caffeinated energy drinks’ harmful health effects on children is nothing new — including in Canada.
The drink contains high levels of caffeine and sugar, often much more than those of standard soft drinks.
Last year, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) released a warning about the sugary beverages, saying if you are under 18, you should avoid all sports and energy drinks.
The World Health Organization also called energy drinks a “danger to public health,” especially among young people. The organization said drinking these beverages can lead to obesity, caffeine intoxication, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, and even death, which has been reported in the U.S., Sweden and Australia.
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What do Canadian health experts say?
Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages marketed to improve energy, stamina, athletic performance and concentration.
But the beverages can contain pharmaceutical-grade caffeine and additional caffeine from natural sources — this is why kids’ hearts race and their blood pressure levels climb.
A 250 ml can of Red Bull has around 80 milligrams of caffeine, around the same amount as a similarly sized cup of coffee. In comparison, a can of Coca-Cola contains around 32 mg of caffeine. A 500 ml can of Monster Energy contains around 160 mg of caffeine.
High levels of caffeine can lead to anxiety, increased blood sugar and cardiovascular disease, according to the U.S. National Institute of Public Health. And too much sugar can cause obesity, tooth decay and type 2 diabetes.
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Would energy drinks ever be banned for minors in Canada?
The idea of banning energy and sports drinks to minors in Canada has been toyed with, but nothing concrete has ever been implemented.
After the CPS released its warning about selling these beverages to youth, a small town in Quebec did ban them.
In November 2016, Macamic, Que., a town of 3,000 people, prohibited people under the age of 18 from buying energy drinks.
In 2014 and 2017, Toronto’s Board of Health looked into banning the sale of energy drinks to people under the age of 18. But the ban was never put through.
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The energy drink debate is also going on south of the border.
In 2016, Middlebury College in Vermont banned the sale of energy drinks on campus because they did not add to the school’s mission to nourish students and the beverages were tied to “problematic behaviour” including “high-risk sex.”
‘Immense pushback’ from energy drink companies
Pound acknowledged that if energy drinks were banned from being sold to minors in Canada, there would be “immense pushback from companies that make these drinks.”
“But the numbers don’t lie, the evidence is there. The drinks are harmful to children and teens and that is the reason we need a policy in place to protect our youth.”
In an email to Global News, the Canadian Beverage Association said Health Canada has stated that “caffeinated energy drinks (CEDs) are safe to consume. This adds to the weight of evidence from health authorities across the world, such as the US Food & Drug Administration (USFDA), the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA), and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) – which also deemed CEDs safe to consume,” a spokesperson wrote.
“For all ages, there are much greater contributors of caffeine in the diet. As an example, an average CED in Canada contains 80-180 mg of caffeine. Health Canada limits caffeine to maximum 180mg in any single-serve container. A cup of coffee, which is consumed by youth much more regularly in Canada, can contain almost twice as much caffeine.”
Laws in Canada?
In Canada, it’s illegal to advertise and market energy drinks to youth, but Pound notes that it’s hard to police. The drinks’ packaging is bright and edgy — that alone draws youth in.
There are no laws regulating energy drink sales to youth in Canada, but the government has warned about the health risks.
Health Canada said caffeinated energy drinks are not recommended for children because of their high levels of caffeine and other ingredients. The beverages usually have more caffeine than the recommended maximum daily intake for children, the organization said.
“It is known that children are at an increased risk of experiencing behavioural effects from consuming caffeine. Health Canada has received a number of reports of suspected health problems associated with caffeinated energy drinks,” the organization said on its website.