COLUMN: Ban energy drinks at school

New Health Canada regulations fail to fully address the magnitude of the problem.

COLUMN: Ban energy drinks at school

With New Year’s resolutions still fresh on the minds of all, local school boards should add another resolution to their list for 2013: Ban energy drinks from being consumed on school property.

Starting this month, Health Canada will enforce rules that will require energy drink producers to cap their caffeine levels at 180 mg. The regulations however, fail to fully address the magnitude of the problem. It isn’t just caffeine that lurks inside these colorfully designed energy drinks. There can be as much as 15 to 20 teaspoons of sugar per can.

In 2011, the federal government introduced legislation that forces energy drink producers to label their products as not being appropriate for children or pregnant/breastfeeding women.  It also requires companies to provide nutritional information and warnings of mixing alcohol with energy drinks.

According to Health Canada, consumption of caffeine “particularly by adolescents and young adults, is increasing.”  They’re “most at risk of exceeding Health Canada’s Recommended Maximum Daily Intakes (RMDI) for caffeine.”

However, the federal government has failed to follow some of the most important recommendations brought forth by the expert panel that it had assigned to review energy drinks. Small energy bottles with excessive caffeine, for instance, aren’t restricted to 180 mgs of caffeine. The expert panel had also wanted the drinks banned for those under 18, and an 80-mg cap, instead of a 180-mg caffeine restriction, on the drinks. These and other recommendations have not been followed by federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.  Obviously, our federal government has not stopped catering to the needs of the beverage industry, as it failed to follow expert recommendations. Hence, it falls on our local school boards to take appropriate action to curtail the consumption of these drinks.

Though there has been much controversy over energy drinks, even a very conservative approach to assessing the negative effects reveals that these beverages are not appropriate for children, as excessive consumption can lead to insomnia, high heart rate, headaches, nervousness and trouble concentrating.  Cases of death and cardiac arrest have also been linked to excessive energy drink consumption (although the evidence for this is not reliable or proven).

Since, it is unlikely that we will see a nationwide ban on energy drinks to minors, as is the case in Mexico, our school boards at the local level must take the initiative to enforce such rules. As a high school student just a few years ago, I observed an increasing ubiquity of energy drinks in school hallways and classrooms. In fact, 30 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds are regular consumers.  In 2008, the sale of junk food was banned in B.C. schools. However, many students simply visit nearby convenience stores.

High school-specific or school-district-wide bans would ensure our youth are not drinking energy drinks, and that their health is not put at risk because of faulty federal action. Steps taken at the school level, where youth spend a substantial amount of time, would certainly be effective. And schools have the liberty to take such action, as excessive caffeine can interfere with normal class attention and attentiveness.

Energy drink bans have certainly been allowed in other school districts. In 2008, the Western School Board in P.E.I. prohibited students from bringing energy drinks on school property.  Similar steps have been taken in the U.S., too.

Advocating for this sort of policy might be a task, in 2013, for B.C. student councils and student bodies, both in pushing for awareness in students and demanding action from the top. Getting enough sleep, hydrating oneself with water, and eating a balanced meal are excellent ways to feel energized without consuming energy drinks.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

Surrey North Delta Leader