Caffeine in govts' sights

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Photo: ODT files
Caffeine is in so many of the products teenagers consume, writes Ian Munro.
Ian Munro
Ian Munro

Just one moment while I take a sip of my long black. That's better. Now, down to today's column on ... caffeine. More specifically, the caffeine intake of teenagers. Hopefully, that lets me off the hook.

The South Korean Government has just announced that it is planning to ban the sale of all coffee products in primary and secondary schools. While this is part of a wider healthy eating and drinking campaign, it is also in response to widespread reports of dizziness, increased heartbeat, sleep disorders and nervousness in youngsters.

It has felt that teenagers, in particular, consume far too much coffee or energy drinks as they handle the long hours of studying required to do well in South Korea's competitive education system.

Similar action is planned by the British Government. It is preparing to consult on how it can ban the sale of energy drinks, such as Red Bull, to children because of growing concern about the impact of high-caffeine, high-sugar drinks on young people's health. Its stated justification is the high level of caffeine in energy drinks, which has been linked to problems such as head and stomach aches, hyperactivity and sleep problems.

As could be expected, Jamie Oliver, chef and healthy eating campaigner, has thrown his weight behind the plan, saying too many children are using energy drinks to replace breakfast and teachers he has talked to are telling him how their lessons are being disrupted because of the stimulants in these drinks.

UK children and teenagers are consuming more of these drinks than adults despite the compulsory warning about their caffeine content and unsuitability for children.

In New Zealand, the most common medical advice regarding caffeine and youngsters also relates to the negative impact on their learning. Their nervous systems are still developing and anything more than the 20mg of caffeine a day that they naturally consume, for example in chocolate, can increase nervousness, anxiety, disturbed sleep, aggressive behaviour and attention problems.

Under 12 years of age the recommendation is that they are best steered away from energy drinks and coffee, which can contain anything from around 35mg in a cola drink, 60mg in an instant coffee and 80mg in an espresso to well over 100mg in many energy drinks.

With teenagers, the greater concern is about over-consumption because caffeine is in so many of the products they consume. Their systems are still developing, too, and excessive intake can cause stomach upsets and agitation, and increase heart rate, anxiety and insomnia. As a general rule, they tend to be sleep deprived as it is, so high doses of caffeine won't set them up too well for school the next day.

 

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