On January 6, 2008, I lost a vibrant, healthy and much loved 15-year-old son. I believe a contributing cause to his death was consumption of an energy drink sample at a sporting event. You can read more about my son’s death on my facebook awareness page.
Industry marketed directly to my son.
Since then, I have done extensive research on the potentially fatal effects of energy drinks and marketing to kids. Three deaths associated with energy drinks are documented in Health Canada’s database, all teenage deaths (1). It has been estimated that for every adverse report filed, up to ten go unreported. My research strongly suggests the unreported number may be much higher.
Experts continue to question the safety of energy drinks’ ingredient cocktail, not just their caffeine content. There are no long-term studies that prove the safety of energy drinks. On the contrary, emerging research strongly suggests they pose a public health threat. In 2010, Health Canada appointed an Expert Panel on Caffeinated Energy Drinks. They came back with very strong recommendations to mitigate safety concerns related to these products — most of which were never addressed.
Energy drinks are the worst case example of industry marketing an unhealthy – and potentially dangerous product – to children and youth. This must stop.
My three primary goals are to:
- Protect children and youth from the potentially fatal effects of energy drinks. First, by treating these products like tobacco, alcohol, and fireworks, through a ban on sale to minors. Second, through federal legislation restricting the commercial marketing of foods and beverages to children.
- Raise awareness of the potential dangers of energy drinks through education programs, point of sale signage, and separate shelf placement.
- Encourage more research on the health risks associated with caffeinated energy drinks.
Currently, there is nothing to stop industry from marketing to another young member of my family. This must change. Voluntary self-regulation by industry of marketing to children has proven an abysmal failure. Regulations with stiff penalties are needed to mitigate the risk energy drinks and their abusive marketing pose to children and youth.
I’ve voiced my concerns on several occasions and continue this dialogue with all levels of government in Canada. On June 8, 2010, I appeared as a witness in Ottawa before the Standing Committee on Health. More recently, I presented to the Toronto Board of Health (March 20, 2017), and the Ottawa Board of Health (April 3, 2017).
On January 6, 2016, in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Trudeau, I offered my strong support for the Liberal campaign promise to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children. I implored the Prime Minister to give special consideration to energy drinks and related caffeinated energy products when developing those regulations. More so, I stressed that children and youth are bombarded with the adventurous and trendy marketing associated with these drinks. Teenagers must also be protected from abusive marketing, not just those 12 and under.
No other family should have to live with the questions that my family does. Sadly, I have connected with several others families who have shared similar losses, more than one of them in Canada. They all share my suspicions.
I urge you to take action. Tell government to restrict the commercial marketing of foods and beverages to children and youth. Send an e-card to your MP letting them know marketing to kids must stop. Together, our message is stronger. Food and beverage companies must be told, our kids are not their business.
By Jim Shepherd
- Canada Vigilance Summary of Reported Adverse Reactions. Canadian Vigilance Database. Health Canada. December 19, 2013. Accessed via: CanadaVigilance@hc-sc.gc.ca