Lise Luppens, Population Health Dietitian Northern Health
The start of a new school year is a great time for Northerners to reflect on how we can support healthy eating habits and healthy food environments for kids. This would include what drinks we make available to children and teens, where they live, learn and play. On that note, let’s talk about energy drinks. There are a variety of brands, flavours and sizes of energy drinks. Common brand names include Red Bull, Amp Energy, Rockstar Energy and Monster Energy.
These beverages contain caffeine, which provides a stimulating or “energizing” effect, and many include large amounts of sugar, in part due to the large size of drink containers. They also contain a range of other possible ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners, herbs, amino acids and vitamins.
What do we need to know about energy drinks?
Energy drinks are not recommended for children or teens.
Health Canada requires manufacturers to include a number of cautionary statements on the label of energy drinks, including: “Not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and individuals sensitive to caffeine.”
A single serving of an energy drink can exceed the recommended daily maximum caffeine intake for children and teens. Children are especially at risk of experiencing behavioural effects from caffeine.
Energy drinks are not allowed for sale in BC schools or school-related events, as per The Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in BC Schools.
Health Canada does not allow marketing or promotion of energy drinks to children, including the provision of samples.
Official legislation aside, I am sure parents, school staff, health professionals and community members can agree that caffeine and kids don’t make a good mix. If we were talking about kids drinking coffee, many adults would probably be comfortable saying, “wait a minute – that’s an adult drink” (and one for which we recognize the need for moderation even among adults).
Although energy drinks are creatively advertised and packaged in flashy containers that appeal to youth, they are not recommended for children or teens due to their high caffeine and sugar content.
So where do we go from here? Water is the best choice to satisfy thirst. Milk or fortified soy beverages are also healthy choices. You can get kids involved in creating other fun drinks that are low in sugar and caffeine, such as water flavoured with fruit slices, berries, mint leaves, or frozen fruit cubes.
If you are a school staff member or PAC volunteer looking for beverages that meet the Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in BC Schools, check out the Brand Name Food List: https://bnfl.healthlinkbc.ca/ . You can set your criteria to either elementary, middle or secondary schools, and you can search “Milk and Alternative Beverages” and “Other Beverages” categories to see which items rate as “Sell Most,” “Sell Sometimes” or “Do Not Sell.” This website may also inspire parents and caregivers with other drink options that are low in caffeine and sugar.
You can find out more information about energy drinks from:
Articles on Healthy Families BC: https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/blog/energy-drinks-and-kids-dont-mix#sthash.9PCmxR3P.dpuf;
Resources at HealthLinkBC: http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile109.stm. You can also connect with Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC by dialling 8-1-1 or emailing at http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthyeating/emaildietitian.html
Sip Smart! BC, an initiative to teach children grades 4 to 6 and their parents what they need to know to make healthy drink choices: http://www.bcpeds.ca/uploadfiles/documents/Sipsmart/ssb_trg.pdf