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Wake up call: Aussie teens losing out on a good night's sleep thanks to energy drinks

4 December 2019 

Energy drinks are contributing to poor sleep among Aussie teens, with new research showing those who drank these highly caffeinated drinks at least once a week were twice as likely to get less than eight hours sleep on a usual school night than those who didn’t.

The findings from Cancer Council Australia’s National Secondary Students’ Diet and Activity survey looked at the habits of more than 9,000 students across the country and found that 1 in 14 teenagers consumed energy drinks at least weekly. A quarter of students had consumed energy drinks at least once.

The survey also showed that males were significantly more likely than females to be weekly energy drink consumers.

The 19 leading health and community organisations behind  Rethink Sugary Drink are calling for restrictions around the sale and marketing of energy drinks to young people.

Craig Sinclair, Head of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, a partner of Rethink Sugary Drink, said given the high levels of sugar and caffeine in energy drinks, it’s worrying to see that so many teenagers are drinking them regularly.

“These drinks just aren’t worth the buzz. Some of the larger energy drinks contain up to 21 teaspoons of sugar and as much caffeine as two cups of instant coffee. It’s no wonder it’s affecting students’ sleep,” he said.

Mr Sinclair said that getting enough sleep is not only important for teenagers’ mental and physical health development, poor sleep habits are also a risk factor for overweight and obesity.

"The high sugar content coupled with excessive amounts of caffeine in energy drinks have a negative impact on not only diet but also sleep. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, increasing the risk of heart and kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers."

A/Prof Matthew Hopcraft, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch, a Rethink Sugary Drink partner, said energy drinks are also a major contributing factor to tooth decay and tooth erosion.

“Regularly sipping on energy drinks exposes teeth to an attack of acid and sugar, dissolving the outer surface of our tooth enamel. This regular loss of enamel can lead to cavities and exposure of the inner layers of the tooth that may leave them feeling very sensitive and painful.”

“The caffeine in energy drinks can contribute to a dry mouth, making it harder for saliva to protect against tooth decay. Energy drinks are packed with a triple whammy of sugar, acid and caffeine that all combine to increase the risk of tooth decay and erosion.”

Mr Sinclair said the survey results are not surprising, given the growing popularity and availability of energy drinks, with many brands using sneaky marketing tactics to appeal to young people.

"We've seen enormous growth in the energy drinks market over the past few years with new brands, flavours and larger sizes now available. These drinks are heavily marketed to young people as a go to study drink. The reality is teens are gulping down a cocktail of sugar, caffeine and other chemicals,” he said.

"Major energy drink brands pour enormous amounts of money into partnerships with events and activities young people enjoy, such as extreme sports and music festivals. They also target teenagers with advertising on social media, in their efforts to develop brand awareness and loyalty.”

Mr Sinclair is calling on governments to introduce tougher restrictions around the sale and marketing of energy drinks to young people in order to tackle the relentless marketing and sponsorship.

“Energy drinks have no place at sports facilities, schools or other places frequented by young people. Organisations like Museums Victoria and YMCA have already removed these drinks and we hope to see other venues across Australia putting the health and wellbeing of Australia’s youth first.”

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