Why energy drinks shouldn’t be restricted
There have been a number of negative news stories about energy drinks in the last few years, the most recent one I’ve seen being an article on the BBC website a couple of days ago, lamenting the fact that a lot of older children drink them.
The worries around energy drinks have become so bad that most of the supermarkets here in the UK voluntarily stopped selling them to under 16s a few years ago. The government has even said that they will enshrine this in law, although as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t happened yet. Here’s why energy drinks aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be, and they certainly shouldn’t be legally restricted.
The main reason people worry about energy drinks tends to be their caffeine content. However, they aren’t actually as high in caffeine as some people think. From what I’ve seen, there isn’t a clear, agreed-upon ‘limit’ for daily caffeine consumption, however most of the advice I’ve seen says either 300mg or 400mg per day.
Most energy drinks tend to have around 30–32 mg per 100ml. A 250ml can of Red Bull has around 80mg. Even if you’re going with the lower of those two limits, that’s just over a quarter of your daily allowance. Granted, Monster’s 500ml cans will have around 160mg caffeine because of the larger size, but that’s still just over half the 300mg limit.
In that context, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Granted it is a lot of caffeine in one go, however I’d imagine most people can handle it without it having too much of an effect.
Some of the problems energy drinks (apparently) cause could be dealt with by individuals moderating their levels and times of consumption, rather than cutting them out altogether.
For example, sleep issues — it’s possible that the problem is having energy drinks too late in the day, rather than the drink itself. For example, it’s recommended that most people should avoid caffeine in the six hours before going to bed. This being the case, it might be that the issue is more to do with timing.
In addition, a lot of the ‘horror’ stories around energy drinks have to do with people consuming a number of them in a very short space of time, and suffering ill effects as a result. Although the amount of caffeine is overplayed to an extent, people still need to be careful of how many they have, and over what time period.
On that basis, I’d argue that better education on this type of thing is the solution, rather than any sort of restriction. Indeed, the BBC article I referenced at the beginning contained some quotes which would appear to back this up.
I tend to have a fairly libertarian mindset in general, and believe in people making their own choices, so naturally I’d rather go down the education route rather than legal restrictions.
OTHER CAFFEINATED DRINKS
Even if you do believe in banning children from buying/consuming energy drinks (rather than just educating them better), there are other ways they can get that amount of caffeine without hindrance. For example, a child can go to Starbucks and get a coffee which contains more caffeine than a Red Bull, without any age restriction.
I’m not arguing coffee should be restricted as well — that would be ridiculous. I just don’t see why the government want to clamp down on energy drinks, when there are other things which have the same amount of caffeine (or more) and are more freely available.
The other perceived problem with energy drinks is the sugar content. It is true that the full-fat versions of most of them are high in sugar and this can have negative effects. Most people are familiar with the idea of the ‘sugar crash’ — getting a quick burst of energy from sugary food or drinks, which then wears off and leaves you feeling more tired than ever.
Again, I’d argue that the solution is better education rather than legal restrictions. Almost every energy drink has a sugar-free or reduced sugar version, and I tend to go for these rather than their full-blooded counterparts. They don’t have the ‘sugar crash’ problem, nor the extra calories that go along with a high sugar content. The sugar free versions tend not to have many calories at all, so they don’t affect one’s intake appreciably.
We just need to teach kids about healthier choices, rather than saying ‘you can’t have this under any circumstances’. Again, they can buy other drinks which are high in sugar (e.g. ‘real’ Coke) without restriction, so why slap an age limit on these things?
To sum up, energy drinks aren’t as high in caffeine as some people think, and there are other ways kids can get the same amount or more without any restriction. The same goes for sugar — they can go and buy other sugary drinks with no quibble from the sales assistant. The issues energy drinks cause can be dealt with by moderation, rather than cutting them out completely.
As with a lot of things, I’m arguing that better education is the answer. Teach kids more about caffeine, sugar, calories etc so they can make informed choices. Even if you don’t trust kids to make this kind of decision, make the information readily accessible so the parents can get a more rounded view. Don’t just say ‘you can’t have this until you’re 16' — that will only make them more appealing.