ENERGY drinks are as commonplace as lemonade, cola and mineral waters on shop shelves and are the ‘poison’ of teenagers across the country.

Many will say they’re no worse for you than coffee or other sugary refreshments, while others are convinced the drinks, which are often full of taurine and e-numbers, are fuelling childhood obesity levels across the UK.

One of those people is Denise Hurr, headteacher at The King Alfred School, in Highbridge, who warned parents that all energy drinks found on the premises will be confiscated and disposed of as part of a new policy to improve pupils’ health.

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Denmark, Turkey and Uruguay have banned the sale of energy drinks to under-18s but one teenager, who refused to be named, believes this is a step too far and said young people should simply be warned about the associated health risks.

The 18-year-old student, who goes to Bridgwater and Taunton College, said: “I think young people need to be more responsible for their own health and need to know when to stop drinking large amounts of energy drinks. I have energy drinks now and again, but I know they are bad for my health, so I don’t drink too many of them.”

The drinks often contain caffeine, taurine, guarana and ginzing and give consumers an energy boost.

Morrisons supermarket has banned children under the age of 16 from buying high-caffeine energy drinks and staff at some of the branches will challenge customers to prove their age.

With the sugar-hit a draw for teenagers, it is no surprise they are so popular – and easy to come by. In Taunton town centre, shops can stock as many as 13 varieties in a chiller beside the entrance, while Poundworld sells a 250ml can of Emerge for 39p.

And Poundland had nine energy drinks available in their Taunton store but a spokesman said they only sell the items and “leave policy making to politicians and health professionals."

Public Health England is working with businesses and schools to reduce the amount of sugar children are consuming after research showed many are consuming three times the recommended amount.

Hayley Peters, director of patient care at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, said the hospital works closely with food and drink outlets on site to promote nutritional choices for patients and visitors. 

“We already strongly encourage the sale of non-sugary drinks at Musgrove Park Hospital and do not allow advertisements or promotions of sugary or energy drinks,” she said.

She said seven out of 10 drinks lines sold at the hospital must be sugar-free, at least six in 10 confectionary and sweets must not exceed 250kcal and six out of 10 pre-packed sandwiches, wraps and salads must not exceed 400kcal and 5g of saturated fat per 100g.

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Mandy Temlett, whose son attends Bishop Fox’s School in Taunton, said: “I think energy drinks should be banned in schools – children just need them. My son’s football club has banned energy drinks and I would like to see more schools and groups doing the same.”

A study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Education and Behaviour by Dr Jacinta Francis this month, said the drinks can cause headaches, nausea, sleep difficulties, seizures, anxiety, cardiac abnormalities and, in some cases, sudden death which are “prevalent and increasing” in young people.

The King Alfred School is one of the first in Somerset to ban energy drinks due to the research. Mrs Hurr said: “Recent reviews of worldwide evidence on energy drinks links them to a wide range of short and long-term health issues, including headaches, stomach aches, heart and liver problems and sleep problems. 

“They have also been linked to impacts on well-being and educational outcomes. Many such drinks contain far more than the recommended daily intake of sugar and caffeine, affecting concentration and mood.”
The headteacher says parents and staff support the change with many speaking of their surprise the ban has not been introduced at more schools across the county.

Bridgwater and Taunton College also made the “conscious decision” five years ago not to sell energy drinks due to the high sugar content and the fact “students could become unruly when they had consumed them”. A campaign was also run to make students aware of the impact the drinks have on their bodies.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said the idea that children are guzzling energy drinks to help them through the day does nothing more than fuel childhood obesity.

“Allowing sugary drinks to be brought into schools undermines the good nutritional standards set by Government that restrict the sale of these drinks on the school grounds,” she said. “This is why we think any school that is trying to discourage children from having too many sugary drinks is a good thing.”

Somerset County Council said schools have the authority to decide what they allow on the premises and "encourage them to promote healthy eating."