Add get-up-and-go to a ban on energy drinks

18th July 2014 at 01:00
A school embargo is tricky to enforce, but this guide will help you to stop students - and staff - guzzling caffeine-heavy beverages

Teachers and energy drinks should be a fantastic double act. A quick sip or two of the latest brand of caffeine-heavy fuel is exactly what you'd think a teacher would be craving when they're approaching the last lesson of the day and running on the vapours of a long-ago breakfast. Except there is a problem: students are likely to have been drinking it too. According to many teachers, consuming an energy drink is therefore the equivalent of fraternising with the enemy.

This is why the reaction you get from teachers when you mention energy drinks can be rather explosive. You will be regaled with stories about how such beverages cause tiredness in students (having fuelled them through a night on the Xbox, for example) and how they lie behind countless acts of poor behaviour both in and out of the classroom.

Although anecdotally this may well seem to be the case, the facts are slightly more complicated. What we do know for sure is that energy drink consumption is rising and that students are among the chief consumers. According to The 2013 UK Soft Drinks Report from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), consumption of energy drinks in the UK increased 17 per cent between 2010 and 2011, and rose again by 9.7 per cent the following year.

We also know that many of these new consumers are teenagers: a study commissioned by the European Food Safety Authority in 2013 found that 68 per cent of young people in Europe aged 10-18 consumed energy drinks, compared with 30 per cent of adults.

Yet the impact of this increased consumption on behaviour is a little more hazy. Numerous studies have found a link between energy drinks and risky behaviour. However, they stop short of blaming the former for the latter, merely stating that the consumption of such drinks is one common factor among many.

This lack of hard evidence should not necessarily prevent schools from taking action should they still want to. Whether or not you can prove the link between bad behaviour and energy drinks, there are health issues to consider. Caffeine and other additives are not recommended for bodies that are still growing and sugary drinks of any kind are no good for teeth, waistlines or pockets.

There is heavyweight support for action on health grounds. In an interview with online magazine The Drum in January, the BSDA stated that "high-caffeine soft drinks should not be marketed to those under 16". And in May this year, Lithuania became the first European Union country to ban the sale of high-caffeine drinks to minors.

There is good cause and precedent for schools to act on this issue, then. And act my school did. It is still early days, but so far staff and students are reporting less disruptive behaviour. On that, I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

If you think your school is tough enough to crack down on the cans, here are some of the lessons we have learned.

Get everyone on board

Before laying down the law, conduct a survey on energy drinks. Online surveys are quick and easy to create, and they can be completed by staff, students and even parents. You'll be able to gauge attitudes towards these drinks, and get an idea of levels of consumption and whether people believe there is a link to negative behaviour. Once your ban has been in place for a while, a follow-up survey provides an indication of success - or otherwise.

Inform and empower

Make energy drinks part of the curriculum. In PSHE lessons, students could explore the health risks of caffeine and sugar; in science, they could investigate the ingredients. Humanities classes might research the environmental impact of production and disposal, while English students could analyse the way energy drinks are marketed in order to become more informed consumers. Maths teachers, too, could break down the cost of buying all those cans on a regular basis.

You know that thrill-seeking, rebellious image that those drinks project? You can smash that with a concerted crosscurricular effort.

Get the message out there

Publicise your ban in the school newsletter and local paper. Stick it on the website. Display posters made by students. Hold assemblies, invite guest speakers and discuss the issue during form time.

Let's be realistic, no matter how the ban is enforced, students will break it on the way to school, glug down the drinks when no one's looking or defy you to your face. But that does not mean you should not act.

The most important thing that schools can do is provide students with information and understanding in the hope that they make the best decisions for themselves.

Ellie Ward teaches English at a high school in a small coastal town in Western Australia

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