Energy Drinks Are Ruining Our Children's Education

Energy drinks are #NotforChildren and we need a universal ban on their sale to under-16s across the UK
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I think most parents would say that the world their children live in now is tougher than the one they grew up in. Social media, increased peer pressure and longer, more challenging exams mean today’s students need to focus hard in school to achieve what they want for their future.

As a teacher, I’m fortunate to work in an organisation that puts excellent teaching at the core of what we do. But even with the best support, the most talented teacher will need to be firing on all cylinders to deal with the effects of students consuming energy drinks. These ‘legal-highs’, widely available in shops near schools, are being regularly consumed by children across the country.

Boost… Emerge… Rockstar… Amp… POWER(ade)… Monster... their names are infamous to students across the country, not as sturdy tools of language to aid a piece of descriptive writing but as the names of their favourite energy drinks. These drinks create ‘wired’ students, pumping them with obscene amounts of caffeine their growing bodies certainly don’t need. They are a sure-fire catalyst for disruption to learning unless energy drink guzzlers are not kept on-track through ever-changing short term activities – it’s a challenge for any teacher. Even if your own child doesn’t drink them or buy them, they share a classroom with those that do and I can guarantee that their learning is being disrupted if their classmates are caught in the cycle of energy drinks.

Now let’s think about the crash-and-burn effect. If a child downs a ‘Monster’ or a ‘Rockstar’ on the way to school, by period two they are heads-down on the desks, grumpy and sluggish – and certainly not in any frame of mind to tackle a challenging equation or piece of literature. As Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan said in the ‘Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast’ episode my students participated in, energy drinks disrupt the natural cycle of sleep, which in turn make for a tired and cranky teenager. How do they overcome this? A quick swig on an energy drink for a short-term boost and the cycle continues…

The academy and federation of schools I work within have successfully banned these drinks in-house and it is absolutely fantastic to see the likes of Waitrose, Tescos and WHSmiths supporting the #NotforChildren campaign banning sales of these drinks to under-16s too. Yet despite this great start, children are still able to easily purchase these drinks from many other stores, not to mention local corner shops. This is why I believe the legislation needs to change - and quickly. Energy drinks are #NotforChildren and we need a universal ban on their sale to under-16s across the UK.

Why are our children reaching for them? Firstly, they are cheap; often cheaper than water. Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, found that energy drinks were as cheap as 25p, with children as young as 10 reportedly buying them to “fit in” or “look tough”. That’s the equivalent of a 10-year-old drinking multiple cups of coffee in one sitting.

It’s not just the price but also the marketing of these drinks. Next time you’re in a store, look at where the drinks are positioned compared to water and the check-out. How on earth can a bottle of water on the bottom shelf of a chiller cabinet compete with a child-eye-height-positioned row of these ‘legal-highs’ packed full of caffeine? These are marketed as fashionable drinks, however they often have limited labelling which does not explain their contents in terms of the most commonly understood source of caffeine – coffee.” That is why at Harris Academy South Norwood we are not just banning these drinks but re-educating our students about why these products are so harmful and help them to understand the hidden jargon on their labels:

Did you know…’, ‘what does this say? Not suitable for breastfeeding women. Why do you think it says that...’

Thanks to the sterling work our NHS do, children know how harmful smoking is to health, and a similar message needs to go out about energy drinks.

We owe it to our young people to support them to do the best they can. It’s a seriously competitive world out there. The UK currently stands at 27 in The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s programme for international student assessment (Pisa rankings), well behind our European cousins and the Far-East. Our children’s learning environment needs to be free from these harmful drinks or our international positioning risks getting even lower. Interestingly, those countries jumping ahead – Singapore, Canada – have looked at revising legislation surrounding energy drinks to under-16s.

The message is simple: these products are dangerous and are having a long-term health and educational effect on our children. Follow Jamie and Jimmy and get behind the #NotforChildren campaign to change the legislation around this. These drinks are definitely #NotforChildren.

Louise Martin is Assistant Principal at the Harris Academy in South Norwood and tweets @louise_a_martin

UPDATE: This blog was amended on 7 March. An earlier version of this blog described Lucozade as a ”‘legal-high’ packed with caffeine”. The drink is not considered a high-caffeine product.