Last month the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published an opinion piece entitled “‘Caffeinating’ Children and Youth,” voicing concern over the prevalence of high-caffeine energy drinks.
While many energy drinks are regulated as Natural Health Products and include on-label warnings, the CMAJ pointed out that others do not contain warnings or list caffeine content, and, they say, are marketed in a way so as to make them particularly
attractive to children and teens. It goes further in urging Health Canada to step in, noting “Regulations could include government-mandated restrictions on labelling, sales and marketing or self-imposed industry-wide standards with clear labelling accompanied by public education.”
Concern over high caffeine and sugar content in energy drinks is nothing new, and in fact, has in the past been expressed in our own pages by professionals who are much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am. And likely more study on the subject of caffeine is needed. But this isn’t just about the chemistry or the ingredients used in energy drinks, it’s about manufacturers’ right to offer a government-approved product for which there is already a vast market, and consumers’ right to choose that product.
Beverage companies do not market their high-caffeine energy drinks to children. It is undeniably an adult product. And in our time-crunched, do-more-with-less world, caffeinated, sugary drinks are not only appreciated, they’re celebrated — Tim Hortons’ double-double is almost the national drink. Instead, as in the case of coffee, cola, overly sugary or salty treats or any other product that is not suitable for children, it is parents who must ultimately take responsibility for what their kids consume, and who are responsible for policing their intake.
In the case of energy drinks, education aimed at both parents and youth is a necessity. But so is general dietary and nutritional education. Ensuring children and teens have the right nutritional knowledge available to them means that they are more equipped to make sound decisions about what they put into their bodies as they become young adults. And since we are all part of the community, simply saying education is a government rather than industry responsibility doesn’t really cut it. But imposing further regulations concerning how beverage producers can sell their products is unnecessary.
The food and beverage industry is already one of the most highly regulated sectors in Canada. Would additional government restrictions on energy drinks stop consumers from purchasing them? Likely not.