For several years, we can observe a disturbing phenomenon in the form of a significant increase in the popularity and consumption of energy drinks among children and adolescents. Children’s Rights Ombudsman Mikołaj Pawlak, in a general address to the Minister of Health, raised the problem related to the growing ode to supporting oneself with “energizers” e.g. before tests or classes, during study time, or during increased exertion. According to a study conducted in 2021 by the National Institute of Public Health PZH – National Research Institute, younger and younger children, even as young as a few years old, are reaching for such drinks, not realizing the consequences of their regular consumption not only for health, but also for life. The vast majority of energy drinks in Poland have 36 mg of caffeine per 100 ml. Implementing age restrictions on the sale of high-energy drinks would certainly have a significant impact on curbing and eventually eliminating the growing trend among children and adolescents. It is worth noting that countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany, for example, where the sale of energizers is allowed to people over the age of 16, have decided to do so by introducing appropriate regulations. Finland and Iceland, on the other hand, have limits on the amount of caffeine per 100 ml of beverage. In addition, in Finland the producers themselves have set the age limit for the sale of energy drinks at 15. Denmark and Norway have banned their sale, while in Lithuania and Latvia people under the age of 18 cannot buy energizers.
Energizers – what do they really consist of?
High-energy drinks, which health professionals have been warning against for years due to their harmful effects on health, especially for children and adolescents, are products high in caffeine and taurine. The first of the mentioned ingredients stimulates the nervous system, which in the case of children is just developing, and thus can lead to nervousness, dizziness, abdominal pain, chest pain and even sleep problems, among other things. In turn, although taurine stimulates muscles, in excess it also contributes to weakness, lack of mood, and sometimes vomiting and dehydration. In addition, energy drinks also contain large amounts of sugar – there are usually 6-7 teaspoons per can. Its excess leads to sudden stimulation, but after some time there is a decrease in energy, lack of strength and drowsiness. In addition, excess sugar can lead to diabetes or tooth decay after some time. In addition to the above-mentioned ingredients in energizers we can find a number of other substances, also unhealthy for our body, such as:
- acidity regulators,
- carbon dioxide,
- preservatives and flavorings,
- synthetic vitamins, especially of the B group.
The effect of the listed ingredients, especially caffeine, depends on the dose consumed, health status, body sensitivity and age. According to the National Center for Nutrition Education:
Caffeine is not a nutrient, but a psychoactive substance, used in food most often because of this physiological effect. Consuming it in small amounts positively stimulates the activity of the central nervous system, while in larger doses symptoms of irritability, restlessness, anxiety attacks, insomnia or impaired motor coordination may appear (…). For several years, there has been a steady increase in the assortment of energy drinks worldwide and in Poland, and they are becoming increasingly popular among all age groups, including children and adolescents. According to a report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), based on data from 16 European countries, about 18% of children aged 3-10 consume energy drinks at least once a year. More boys than girls reach for these drinks (22% and 14%, respectively).
The ingredients in energy drinks can have very harmful effects on children’s health. Caffeine is the main ingredient in these drinks, while it is not recommended in children’s diets, as it has psychoactive effects. An increase in its consumption by children can cause mood changes, irritability, anxiety, and the consumption of large amounts (5 mg/kg body weight/day) causes an increase in blood pressure. In addition, caffeine negatively affects calcium metabolism, which can cause bone formation disorders. High caffeine intake can also affect the length and quality of children’s sleep. Children with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease, hyperthyroidism and emotional instability are a special risk group.
According to the researchers, as little as one can of a high-energy drink can lead to a heart attack. In addition, some of them i.e. Dr. Kathleen Miller of the University of Buffalo, for example, point out the correlation between the consumption of energy drinks and increasing levels of aggression among children and adolescents.
The effects of energy drink consumption among children and adolescents.
Typically, energizers are placed on publicly available shelves in eye-catching packages, which very often also bear positively associated slogans. Not surprisingly, children and adolescents have also begun to pay attention to such products, especially since they may have, among other things, an example from above, i.e. from their parents or older siblings, and the drinks themselves are usually similar in taste to orangeade. Due to their similar content to coffee, they have the same effect, and their availability in larger, e.g. liter packs, suggests that more can be drunk.
An hour after a child consumes an energizer, we may notice nervousness and hyperactivity, and in some cases accelerated heart rate and anxiety. Long-term intake of such products not only causes memory and concentration disorders, but moreover causes problems with sleep, mood and breathing. Sometimes regular consumption of energizers also leads to an increased risk of heart disease, paralysis of the respiratory center, convulsions and elevation of blood pressure, which in turn can cause palpitations and irregularity of the heart, in extreme cases loss of consciousness and sometimes even death (usually in the course of ventricular fibrillation). Therefore, energy drinks also in small quantities are not advisable for children and adolescents, especially since it is possible to become addicted to them.
Pandemic and remote learning one of the reasons for the rise in popularity of energizers
Practically, energy drinks can be bought everywhere, even sometimes it was possible to buy them in school stores – but this trend has been largely curtailed. Unfortunately, at the time of the pandemic, there were further circumstances conducive to the rise in popularity of energy drinks. First of all, we are talking about much less exercise and the so-called “covid fatigue.” According to the perception of children and young people, such products are supposed to help them function better. In addition, the months-long remote learning created the opportunity to consume energizers at any time, and very often without any restrictions from parents, educators and teachers. The pandemic was a difficult time for everyone, and many times children and teenagers struggled with feelings of loneliness and fatigue from the whole situation, which also fostered an easy reach for such things.
Will there be a restriction on the sale of energizers?
With each passing year, many experts and doctors are getting louder and louder about the harmful effects on health of drinking energy drinks, especially in large quantities. So it’s no wonder that for years there has been a worldwide debate over setting an accepted age limit for allowing the drinking of such drinks. Both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Belgian Health Council believe that the consumption of energy drinks should be avoided by people under the age of 16.
On February 9 of this year, a draft Law on Public Health, restricting children and adolescents’ access to beverages with added taurine and caffeine, i.e. the aforementioned energizers, was submitted to the Parliament. The document calls for a ban on their sale to people under 18, particularly on the premises of schools and other educational units and in vending machines. The draft also contains regulations on restricting advertising aimed at children, which is also closely related to ads for alcohol and tobacco products – i.e. their broadcast will be allowed only at the indicated times and must not be associated with success and the qualities that such drinks can allegedly give. In addition, it must contain all information about the risks that energies pose to health.
“Article 12m. 1 Advertising and promotion of beverages with added caffeine or taurine may not be conducted:
- on television, radio, cinema and theater between 600 and 2000 hours, with the exception of advertising by the organizer of a competitive or professional sports event during the event;
- in the youth and children’s press;
- on the covers of daily newspapers and magazines;
- on advertising poles and boards and other fixed and movable surfaces used for advertising;
- on posters, including large-format posters;
- in the means of information services;
- involving young people and children.
Advertising and promotion with caffeine or taurine is prohibited in the national territory:
- aimed at youth or children;
- depicting youth or children;
- linking the consumption of beverages with added caffeine or taurine to energy and vitality;
- containing claims that caffeinated or taurine-laced beverages have medicinal properties, are a stimulant, a sedative, or a means of resolving personal conflicts;
- encouraging excessive consumption of beverages with added caffeine or taurine;
- containing information that beverages with added caffeine or taurine restore normal fluid levels in the body;
- evoke associations with:
- sexual attraction,
- relaxation or leisure,
- learning or work,
- professional or life success,
- with sports activities.
- Creating the impression that beverages with added caffeine or taurine can be used together with alcoholic beverages.”
Minister of Sports and Tourism Kamil Bortniczuk, after reviewing an analysis prepared based on a study of young people involved in sports by the Nutrition Department, which reports to him at the Sports Institute, said:
These results are alarming, it can be put in a short sentence – energy drinks are a bit of a drug wrapped in candy, so we should beware of them and ban the purchase of these drinks for children.
In the bill submitted to the Sejm, the aftermath of Minister Kamil Bortniczuk’s political activities, drinks in which caffeine occurs naturally have been excluded from the regime – i.e. young people will still be able to order a cup of coffee without showing an ID card.
What’s the penalty for selling energy drinks to minors?
In the draft law on public health, which is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2024, we can also see the penalties for selling energy drinks to minors, i.e:
“Article 12o. (1) Whoever, contrary to the provisions of Article 12. Paragraphs 1-4, advertises or promotes beverages with added caffeine or taurine shall be subject to a fine from PLN 10,000 to 500,000 or to restriction of liberty, or to both of these penalties at the same time.”