Energy Drinks in Schools – Let the Propaganda begin

By Michael Edmonds 23/01/2014

This morning on Breakfast TV they talked about a recent proposal to ban energy drinks in schools. Having taught for a short period in high schools this seems like a good idea to me – teaching high school students can be hard enough without having some suffering the effects of drinks which are both high in caffeine and sugar.

Katherine Rich, spokesperson for the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council, an industry lobby group, was interviewed and during the interview stated several times that there was less coffee in energy drinks than in tea or coffee. This sounded wrong to me, as in the past I have had my students analyse the caffeine content of various drinks. So I wandered over the the supermarket this morning, checked a few cans of energy then consulted the literature. From this I constructed the following table:

Drink Average serving (mL) Amount of caffeine/serving
Brewed coffee (strong)


140 mg

Instant coffee


98 mg

Brewed Tea


58 mg

V double hit


155   mg

V blue


80 mg

V maximum



80 mg*

160 mg*

Lift + (green)


79 mg

Monster energy


176   mg

Red Bull




80 mg

107 mg

150   mg

Mother energy


160   mg

*contains guarana 300 mg

As you can see that if we were talking about the same serving size then Ms Rich is correct with regards to a strong or medium strength cup of coffee, though not with regards to tea based on the figures I obtained.

However, she has overlooked the fact that many energy drinks are sold in 500 (and one in 550 mL) cans. These deliver a dose higher than  your average cup of coffee, and much higher than tea.

Another oversight is that drinks such as V maximum also contain guarana and it is not clear to me from the labeling whether the stated amount of caffeine takes into account the caffeine which would be present in the 300 mg of guarana they add. If not the caffeine content should be higher than stated!

Of course comparing the amount of caffeine in energy drinks to that in coffee and tea is a bit of a red herring as I don’t think many schools would encourage students to drink tea or coffee. But then maybe this is simply an attempt to “normalise” the idea of caffeine consumption by children by linking it to commonly consumed drinks by adults.

Either way, it would be nice if people didn’t put a spin on the actual facts in such debates.



0 Responses to “Energy Drinks in Schools – Let the Propaganda begin”

  • The data on caffeine content within coffee/tea is poor quality at best.

    Caffeine contents can vary widely (2-3x iirc) between cafes, and even between brands of instant. Never mind having a set serving size for a immensely variable drink is also adding another variable.

    Using caffeine to string up these discussions is also a pathetic red herring running the gauntlet of chemical hysteria. The more interesting question would be why schools are selling beverages that contain substantially high levels of sugar, with little other redeeming features. A espresso would be better value, regardless of its caffeine content.

  • JC Carter,

    I agree with you that the amount of sugar in these drinks is an important consideration with some of the 500 mL containing over 50 g, however, I don’t think I would consider caffeine as a red herring as these amounts of caffeine are high and can have a significant physiological effect.

  • … during the interview stated several times that there was less coffee in energy drinks than in tea or coffee.
    Probably true for coffee but not for caffeine 🙂

  • Good healthy choice to have at schools .. yeah right.
    If the little shiites want them so much they can get them across the road at the diary.
    Should sell them fireworks to.. Put it all on youtube and let the entertainment begin..

  • Derek,
    Do not refer to school children (or anyone else) as “little shiites” on this blog.

  • Let’s get over ourselves – let’s spend time on the arguments rather than what we call ‘the little shites’. The issue is not what is in the drinks or that they exist at all, but that schools ALLOW them to be sold on their premises. That’s the real crime here.

    • Brent,
      1) While it is important that we focus on the issues, it is also important that the people we are speaking about, school children, are talked about respectfully.
      2) It is what is in the drinks that makes it a concern that they are allowed to be sold at schools.

  • 1) Seriously, I think if Derek was being disrespectful he would have dropped the ‘e’.
    2) So blame the schools, stop the kids being able to drink it, and ensure it’s available to others whose bodies can handle it. Don’t punish everyone just because schools are so stupid to allow it. It’s time they were accountable.

    • Brent,
      I’m not sure what you mean by “don’t punish everyone.” Current talk about banning these drinks is only about banning them from schools.