Energy drinks have hit the headlines this week and for none of the right reasons. I‘m particularly delighted that this pernicious form of refreshment is having the spotlight shone upon it and is finally being challenged because there are many people out there, particularly young people, who associate energy drinks with keeping fit and exercise.
The big reveal has come courtesy of campaign and research group, Action on Sugar who surveyed the nutritional labels of 197 drinks. It is using the results – one drink had up to 10 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml – to campaign for the banning of sales of these drinks for children under the age of 16.
Although health officials have countered this by saying that the Government has already called for a crack down on sugary drinks, campaigning for people to consume fewer, I feel that this misses the point. What has always alarmed me about these drinks is not the bad stuff like sugar that’s in them but how they are perceived - particularly their association with energy and fitness. For some, for example, they are akin to the same type of healthy living as taking vitamins and are considered as being ‘good for you’.
It’s been pointed out by professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman for Action on Sugar, Graham MacGregor that some children labour under the misconception that these drinks can actually improve your performance when doing sports or at school and it is this misconception that is both wrong and harmful.
More than half of the drinks surveyed had the same amount of sugar, if not more, than Coca Cola. But then wouldn’t you rather your child had Coca Cola, given the choice? At least, there’s no confusion involved. We all know that Coca Cola contains sugar and caffeine and is essentially not good for you and so when we seek to educate our children about their diets, we get to explain that this is a sweet treat, to be consumed in limited amounts. Children know it’s a treat and is not healthy – nor would they think that it could boost their performance.
Beware, however, the drink that comes in disguise, masquerading as something it’s not by using words like ‘energy’ and ‘sport’. I’d like to say that the subterfuge is subtle, except it isn’t. The trick is blatant. So don’t play the game. Don’t buy these drinks and don’t allow your children to buy them.