Posted by Mandy Cheetham, Fuse Research Associate at Teesside University
Our study on energy drinks showed that cost was one of the major influences on young people’s choices. The mapping exercise we did with Year 6 and Year 9 students in their local area showed walls of cheap, appealing, attractive displays of multiple flavoured energy drinks to tempt young people, with ‘buy one, get one free’ offers to share with friends. As important as the economic considerations are, the social meanings of energy drinks also have a major role to play. These are often misunderstood or ignored by adults planning public health interventions to reduce the risks of obesity.
In Wendy Wills’ presentation at the Sweetness, Social Norms and Schools seminar in September, (CPPH/Wolfson Seminar - Sweetness, social norms and schools: factors influencing children and young people’s food and drink practices), I was struck by the similarities in young people’s comments about the importance of social relationships, interactions with friends, and the value of friendly respectful exchanges with local retailers, informing their lunchtime decision making. Young people were keen to be involved in efforts to improve the school food environment. Young people in our study were similarly fired up to make positive changes, and questioned why and how energy drinks companies can target young people under 16. They had ideas about what would make a difference and were realistic about the challenges of restricting sales of energy drinks to young people.
In September, Fuse welcomed Professor Helen Roberts, a self confessed fan of evidence informed public health advocacy, to deliver a knowledge exchange seminar prompting debates about our role as academics and advocates. Constrained by restrictions placed on us by funders, some appear nervous about compromising assumed notions of independence. If we want our research to have impact, should we not frame public health debates in ways which make sense to those who participate in our research? Rather than simply highlighting the health risks of energy drinks, this means understanding the social meanings of young people’s food and drink choices and more critical engagement with the industry that promotes them. Our efforts would be further strengthened by encouraging young people and colleagues to connect with other campaigns such as RRED and GULP.
To download the Fuse Energy Drinks report click here, or the Fuse Brief can be viewed here.
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