By TANYA CAMERON
Each year, at our Country Women’s Association annual meeting, the agenda is filled with practical suggestions for policy development on a variety of subjects.
One of the concerns this year was the detrimental effect of, and complacent attitude towards, high energy drinks.
As mothers, grandmothers and aunts, our members had serious concerns about what damage these drinks might be doing to the young people in their lives. They questioned why we ban those under 18 from drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, while energy drinks can be bought practically anywhere, by anyone and consumed in any quantity.
So as I drink my second cup of coffee for the day (fighting off feelings of hypocrisy) and write about our petition to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors, I ponder past discussions with my own children on this subject and the possible side effects of consuming too many. Their oft touted and very quick responses were along the lines of “no worse than your coffee, mum” and “the label says I can have this many.”
So why are we so concerned, especially for our younger generation?
Essentially they are a cocktail of ingredients that includes caffeine, sugar, taurine, herbal supplements, ephedrine, ginseng, guarana and the list goes on. Some are found naturally, others not so much. The average energy drink contains a whopping 160–300mg caffeine per 500ml serve. Whereas coffee only has 80–160mg and tea 40–120mg for an equivalent amount i.e. two cups.
The higher rate of caffeine found in most energy drinks can cause insomnia, headache, rapid heart rate, nervousness, hypertension, anxiety and diarrhoea not to mention developing a dependence on caffeine. Who knows what damage, over time, this causes a developing body and mind?
Studies show that young teenagers who frequently consume these drinks on their way to school are more disruptive in class, have poor concentration and some have been admitted to hospital suffering heart palpitations. My morning coffee certainly doesn’t do that. What happened to good old Weet Bix for energy?
A recent paper printed in the Medical Journal of Australia (Med J Aust 2012; 196 (1): 46-49) has shown that since 2010 there has been a 357% increase* in the number of calls made to the NSW Poisons Information Centre reporting caffeine toxicity from energy drink consumption among adolescents.
The median age of these callers was 17 years and more than half of all calls were due solely to energy drink consumption – all before alcohol is added to the mix.
Another statistic that causes concern: the sale of energy drinks is growing by more than 8 per cent a year. Last year they made up more than 35% of all drinks sold in convenience stores, outdoing soft drinks, which came in at 31.5%.
Interestingly, the Food Standards Code limits caffeine in soft drinks to a maximum of 145 milligrams/kg and our advice is that the industry has committed to no ‘direct marketing and advertising of energy drinks to children’. Yet they are sold on the same shelves, from the same outlets with no restrictions.
So, what are we doing about it? We have asked our 10,000 members to circulate a petition to ban the sale of energy drinks to children under the age of 18, with proof of age required for purchase. Once collated, later this year, I intend to present the signatures to The Hon. Peter Dutton, Minister for Health and Sport.
If, like us, you think we should clip those wings, then you might like to sign our petition. You’ll find details of your closest branch here, even in the city, so give them a call and join us in our campaign.
Time for a cup of… tea, I think. :)
Tanya Cameron is the Country Women’s Association of NSW State President. Tanya has been a partner in a mixed farming and grazing business near Rowena in North West NSW for 28 years, is married to Jeff and they have three adult children who all work at home, or locally.
What do you think: Should energy drinks be banned for young people? Or do parents need to be taking greater responsibility for the potential risks that come with consuming too many?