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THE CANNED CAFFEINE CREEPING INTO OUR CHILDREN’S LIVES From the playgrounds to students studying late into the night and partying early into the morning hours. Joshua Saunders investigates how energy drinks are not only stealing our kids sleep but could be putting their lives at risk.

MAKING CAFFEINATING THE GRADE OUR KIDS


CAFFEINATING OUR KIDS

ASHLEY HUMBER, 19 ‘I’ve polished off a six pack of Redbull in a morning. I’ve been there in cold sweats, really scatty and everything feels different’

BECCA COBHAM, MUMSNET ‘Kids that age are drinking them to get a buzz, You worry that they could found something stronger’

LOU COEL, DANCE TEACHER ‘Children shouldn’t be having them. They will be bouncing off the walls one minute, then sleeping and feeling depressed the next’

LOTI BRADLEY, 21 ‘They made me feel more awake and stimulated. In the end I was relying on them rather than them having for enjoyment’

A

gaggle of five school children, no older than eleven, stand at the side of a compact cornershop, metres away from Pimlico tube station. They’re discuss which drink to buy, admiring the rack of sugared beverages before them. “This one’s the cheapest,” says a freckled blond haired boy, pointing to an energy drink. His friends consider the recommendation, admiring the endless array of fizzy caffeinated beverages before them. All but two of them purchase the home brand energy drink available at their fingertips for 39 pence. At the time I was a spectator watching as the shopkeeper scan the cans that bear the warning ‘not recommended for children’. Unaware or disinterested he waives their age aside and sells drinks they are not meant intended to consume. Several days previously to this, in November last year, the parents of young Anais

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The Sunday Times Magazine 10.4.2013

Fournier lost a lawsuit of ‘wrongful death’ against energy drink corporation Monster. Anais, who was only 14 at the time, had consumed two 24 ounce cans of Monster Mega Energy. She suffered cardiac arrest after taking in 480mg of caffeine, the equivalent to 14 cans of Coca Cola, which she had drank in just over 24 hours aggravated an underlying heart condition. Neither Anais or her parents were aware of this weakness that caused by a genetic disorder. The coroner concluded that “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity complicating mitral valve regurgitation in the setting of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome” was responsible for her death. “Anything that weakens the heart can increase sensitivity to caffeine’s cardiovascular impacts,” commented cardiologist Rita Redberg. This sensitivity to caffeine and a lack of knowledge about how caffeine affects younger people and their bodies is to blame

for the sad story of young Anais. Her parents decided to switch off her life support machine after she had lay dormant in a medically induced coma for six days. This is not the only case of where a child has been hospitalised after consuming energy drinks. The case shocked the world, casting doubt and uncertainty over the safety of energy drinks, leaving many of us, myself included, questioning: how many more children and teenagers could be at risk? Despite this the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) documented in 2011, that we as a nation drank 495 million litres of energy drinks, the equivalent of 198 Olympic sized swimming pools. The market leader is Red Bull, which is the third best selling soft drink in Britain selling more than 230 million cans last year. “Red Bull gives you wings,” “Unleash the beast,” “Party like a Rockstar,” “Go Full Throttle or go home” are a few of

the common slogans employed by energy drink advertisers to entice purchasers displaying the uplifting energized effect of what some refer to as ‘canned adrenaline’. The BSDA, who represent the soft drinks industry, issued a code of practice to prevent people below the age of 16 from being targeted by advertising for energy drinks. But despite this, many large companies sponsor extreme sports, skateboarders, sportsmen and competitions that are predominantly watched and participated in by children and teenagers. Mother Tina Brazier from Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham was concerned to find that Jacob, her son, had been consuming between five and six cans of energy drinks a day at their local skatepark. “Redbull have their own sections on extreme sports channels and the majority of their audience is at the lower end of the teenage scale, who then aspire to be like them,” says Tina. “My nine year old’s obsessed with

skateboarding programmes. So now he’s being drip fed by the same advertising.” Jacob was 13 when he developed a series of bladder infections and at times was urinating blood. Doctors could not pin down after to a specific cause, even after numerous tests. “One evening he kept going to the toilet, and then he’d go to the toilet again he’d say, ‘it’s not fair my tummy’s hurting’.” “It seemed that there was a direct correlation between the energy drinks he was having and the effects it was having on his bladder. It was irritating him a lot.” A Canadian health report suggests that children aged 13 and under should not take any more than 2.5mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. The average weight for a 12-13 year old hovers around seven to eight stone, meaning the highest amount of caffeine children of that age should consume is 119 mg. However in the average 500ml can of energy drinks Monster and Rockstar there is 160mg

of caffeine, and the slightly denser 475ml can of Red Bull contains fractionally less. “Jacob seems very hyper when he’s had them, speaking at twenty million miles per hour, unable to sit still and fidgeting,” Tina explained. “He now knows he can’t have them, but they are quite blinkered at that age and so doesn’t consider things.” Weeks earlier this innocent naivety was highlighted to Tina, when her nine year old son returned from the shop with a ‘ginormous can of monster’. “Three young children can go into a shop and freely buy energy drinks, with legislation they wouldn’t be able to do that,” she stressed.

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urrently there is no legislation to prevent a child of any age from purchasing energy drinks. The only barrier between kids and energy drinks are the shopkeepers, whether they choose to sell to minors is at their own discretion. The Sunday Times Magazine 10.4.2013

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSHUA SAUNDERS FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

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CAFFEINATING OUR KIDS

“You can buy them in the shops and drink as much as you can, which is where some of the health concerns come in,” says Dr Michael Duncan of Coventry University’s biomolecular and sport science department. He said “energy drinks are packed up as a ready to go high caffeine solution,” not tailored to an individual’s own tolerance level. One report, from the University of Miami’s paediatrics department suggests, “These drinks have been reported in association with serious adverse effects, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, mood and behavioral disorders or those who take certain medications.” They warned that high-caffeine drinks could “exacerbate cardiac conditions” in children resulting in “hypertension, irregular heartbeats and even sudden death.”

BELOW: JOSHUA SAUNDERS

W

e put our queries to three of the largest energy drinks companies. Neither Monster, Red Bull nor Relentless replied to our questions about the safety of their products towards teenagers and children. However in previous statements they have made the following comments: “Red Bull should be part of a balanced and varied diet as well as a healthy lifestyle.” Monster - “Our products are safe based on both our and the industry’s long track record and the scientific evidence supporting the safety of our ingredients.”

‘HAVING A MATURE CHAT WITH KIDS ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF CAFFEINE WILL INFLUENCE THEM MORE THAN ANY LAWS’ Red Bull. No comment from Relentless could be found. “The reality is they’re very accessible and popular and you see kids drinking energy drinks all the time,” says MP Robert Wilson. The Reading East representative is calling for clarity on whether they pose risk or danger to young consumers. “Without looking thoroughly at what ingredients like taurine do to the body from state-commissioned research, we’re effectively playing a game of Russian Roulette. It’s time we took this issue rather more seriously,” he added. Across the pond in Canada there are now laws preventing any non-resealable energy drinks from containing more than 180mg of caffeine. But Huffington Post columnist Steven LaFleur opposes the newly implemented laws believing, “For the amount of resources required to implement this type of legislation you could run all kinds of public education or health efforts.” As of December 2014, under EU law all energy drinks companies will be forced to disclose the caffeine content per 100ml on the front of their cans. Along with the current requirements stating ‘high caffeine content’ and ‘not recommended for children, or pregnant or breastfeeding women’. But is this enough - will labelling effec-

tively cull the younger generation’s thirst for caffeinated drinks? The answer I suspect is no. Similarly, if laws were passed banning shopkeepers from selling energy drinks to children it risks making them into another adolescent taboo. The only effective measure against children putting themselves in harm’s way is education. Although at a time where the wallets of the tax payer are tighter than an anaconda’s grip, public outreach programmes could also be out of the question. “If you have a mature and honest conversation with your children about the effects of caffeine and sugar, I think you have a better chance of influencing their behaviour than any broad [legislative] approach,” suggests Steven LaFleur. And perhaps responsibility should be returned to us, the sensible parents, family, neighbours and friends of caffeine consuming kids... Experts allude to the fact that further research must be done, specifically into the ingredients taurine, guarana and other stimulants to unravel how truly safe energy drinks are. But until that definitive point they are still available in more than 140 countries worldwide and all that we can do is try to educate young people about safe and moderate caffeine consumption n

The canned caffeine creeping into our children's lives  

From the playgrounds to students studying late into the night and partying early into the morning hours. Joshua Saunders investigates how en...

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