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Caffeine, sugar in energy drinks robbing teens of sleep and leading to obesity and other health problems

Sue Dunlevy, December 3, 2019 7:00PM News Corp Australia Network

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Mates Jett Jones-Czechowski (left), Taj Burns (centre) and Luan O'Connor (right). Picture: Toby Zerna media_cameraMates Jett Jones-Czechowski (left), Taj Burns (centre) and Luan O'Connor (right). Picture: Toby Zerna

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Energy drinks loaded with caffeine are depriving Aussie teens of sleep, a major new survey shows.

And experts want advertising of the products banned on public transport.

A Cancer Council Australia’s survey of more than 9000 students across the country found teenagers who drank energy drinks at least once a week were twice as likely to get less than eight hours sleep on a school night than those who didn’t.

Around 1 in 14 teenagers said they consumed energy drinks at least weekly and one in four had consumed energy drinks at least once.

The survey also showed teenage boys were significantly more likely than teenage girls to be weekly energy drink consumers.

The controversial drinks have been linked to a series of deaths and hospitalisations around the world, can be dangerous when combined with alcohol and are implicated* in weight gain because of their high sugar content.

The Sleep Health Foundation says teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep, more than an adult, because their bodies and cognition* are growing rapidly.

Sleep is vital for teen mental health and the US Sleep Foundation says lack of sleep can contribute to acne, aggressive behaviour and unhealthy eating habits.

Young woman drinking from a can of Red Bull energy drink in Sydney. media_cameraAround 1 in 14 teenagers said they consumed energy drinks at least weekly.

Craig Sinclair the Head of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, a partner of Rethink Sugary Drink, said energy drinks also contain large amounts of sugar that is driving weight gain among teenagers.

The same Cancer Council survey found one in six (17 per cent) teenagers consume at least 5.2kg of sugar each year from sugary drinks alone.

“This can lead to weight gain and obesity, increasing the risk of heart and kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers,” Mr Sinclair said.

The standard energy drink bottle is 500ml compared to 375ml for soft drinks and this means double the amount of sugar – 21 teaspoons in some energy drinks compared to 10 teaspoons in a smaller bottle of soft drink, he said.

This is three times the recommended daily limit for added sugar in the diet.

The caffeine content of the drinks is also high and this could explain the survey results on their effect on teenage sleep.

Energy drinks contain 160mg of caffeine, more than twice as much as a cup of coffee or a 500ml bottle of cola, Mr Sinclair said.

Energy Drinks Case Study media_cameraJett Jones-Czechowski (centre) with mates Luan O’Connor (left) and Taj Burns (right) pictured at Bondi Skate Park. Picture: Toby Zerna

‘I’M NOT A BIG FAN’
Sydney 11-year-olds Jett Jones-Czechowski and Luan O’Connor have tried energy drinks but both know they are not healthy.

Jett said: “It gave me a bit of energy but I read in the news that someone had a

heart attack after drinking them so I’m not a big fan.”

“Some of my friends at the skate park drink them and they offer them to me but I say no and tell them how bad it is.

“I think they shouldn’t sell them at all, to kids or even to anyone.”

Luan, a skateboarder from Bondi, said he drinks energy drinks in the morning so he

doesn’t have any trouble sleeping at night.

However, he thinks it would probably be a good idea to have an advertising restriction on the drinks.

“I’m not sure the drinks are very good, I know that caffeine is bad for your heart,” he said.

MAY 30, 2001 : Cans of caffeine-loaded sports drinks including V, Red Bull, Lift Plus and Black Stallion, 30/05/01. pic Steve Morenos. Food / Soft Drink / Can media_cameraThere are many different brands of energy drinks available anywhere you can buy regular soft drink. Picture: Steve Morenos

TEETH, HEART AT RISK
Associate Professor Matthew Hopcraft from the Australian Dental Association Victoria said energy drinks are also a major contributing factor to tooth decay and tooth erosion*.

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital cardiologist Professor Chris Semsarian has tested the effects of energy drinks on the heart and said they can lead to an increased heart rate and increased blood pressure and heart palpitations*.

“Caffeine is not the only stimulant* component of these drinks, most also have guarana* which is also a stimulant,” he said.

Energy drinks have been linked to scores of deaths around the world because of their high caffeine content.

A Perth man died of caffeine toxicity* in 2014 after consuming four energy drinks a day and in 2018 a teenage girl died after consuming what appeared to be a mix of alcohol and energy drinks.

There were 300 calls relating to caffeinated energy drinks made to the NSW Poisons Information Centre between 2004 and 2010, 128 of which resulted in hospitalisation.

Supplied Editorial V advertising Kings Cross IMAGES 3 all up media_cameraV energy drink billboards featuring superheroes at Kings Cross station.

SUGGESTIONS FOR THE FUTURE
Cancer Council Victoria is concerned at the heavy marketing of energy drinks at music festivals and other youth events.

“We should be restricting the marketing of these products on government transport, railways and near schools,” Mr Sinclair said.

Professor Semsarian said another solution would be to ban sales of the drinks to young people under a certain age.

CEO of the Australian Beverages Council Geoff Parker said by law all energy drink labels carry warnings that the drinks aren’t suitable for children.

Energy drink companies have adopted a series of commitments that include no direct marketing or advertising to children, and no sales of energy drinks in any school – primary or secondary.

Mr Parker said anyone consuming caffeine drinks, including coffee late in the day had trouble sleeping.

“Government data shows the average 14-16 year old gets almost 10 times the amount of dietary caffeine from coffee compared to energy drinks,” he said.

The hidden dangers energy drinks pose to minors

GLOSSARY

  • implicated: shown as being involved
  • cognition: mental processes of thinking and learning
  • erosion: wearing or eating away something
  • palpitations: feeling of having a fast or pounding heart
  • stimulant: substance that raises levels of nervous activity in the body
  • guarana: seeds of a plant that have twice as much caffeine as coffee
  • toxicity: poisoning

EXTRA READING

Teens guzzling too much soft drink

Damage soft drink can do to your body

Study links soft drink to increased cancer risk

Brush more and eat less sugar for healthier teeth?

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What do experts say caffeine in energy drinks is doing to teens?
  2. How many students were surveyed?
  3. What are some of the health problems mentioned as a result of drinking lots of sugar?
  4. What effects do energy drinks have on the heart, according to Professor Chris Semsarian?
  5. What measures have energy drink companies put in place regarding children?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Energy Drinks – Good or Evil
Work with a partner and complete a two-column table listing all the reasons you can think of regarding energy drinks being good or evil. Put the heading GOOD on one column and EVIL on the other. Think of the different categories of people who drink them (adults, kids, teenagers, athletes, shift workers etc) as you fill out the table.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education, Personal and social, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
How do you think banning advertising of energy drinks on government transport like trains and trams will impact the sales of these drinks?

What do you think the government should do to ensure kids and teenagers steer away from these drinks full of caffeine and sugar?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Health and Physical Education, English, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many wow words or ambitious pieces of vocabulary that you can find in yellow. Discuss the meanings of these words and see if you can use them orally in another sentence.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Have you ever had an energy drink? If so, how often? How do you feel about drinking them now?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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