Labour leader says child health in ‘terrible place’ in energy drink sales pledge

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he does not “care what people call it” as he faced questions about whether his plan to ban energy drink sales to children could be described as “nanny-state” interference.

His party has unveiled plans to ban the sale of high-caffeine drinks to children aged under 16.

TV chef Jamie Oliver has backed the plans, which he described as “really exciting”, in a video posted to the social media website X, formerly Twitter.

On the campaign trail at Whale Hill Primary School in Middlesbrough, Sir Keir told journalists: “The state of the nation can be measured in many respects by the health of our children. It’s in a terrible place.”

Sir Keir Starmer hands a school pupil a toothbrush and holds a toothpaste tube in a school classroom, ahead of a supervised teeth cleaning session
Sir Keir Starmer at a supervised teeth brushing session in Middlesbrough (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He added: “I mean Monster, I think, is the number one.

“Just to give you a sense of that, the caffeine in that is the equivalent of several espressos, which is why it’s having such an effect on children’s behaviour. Talk to anyone who’s in a school and they’ll tell you what the problem is.

“But also it’s got a very detrimental effect on their teeth.”

Sir Keir said he was “genuinely shocked and angered to learn that more children go into hospital to have their teeth taken out between the ages of six to 10 than any other operation”.

He also said: “I’m not prepared to simply stand by and let that happen, which is why we’ve championed supervised teeth cleaning. We’ve been watching that this morning.

“I don’t really care what people call it. If the price for a child of not taking action is losing your teeth between the ages of six to 10, that’s a price that’s too high.”

According to the Labour Party, soft drinks such as Coca-Cola fall below the 150mg of caffeine per litre threshold, but a 500ml can of Monster Energy would exceed it.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has previously said: “Tories have stood idly by as children go to school wired on the equivalent of three shots of espresso from these toxic drinks. It stops them sleeping, damages their mental health, how on earth do we expect children to learn with that in their system?”

Referring to the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which did not make it through Parliament before a General Election was called, Mr Streeting added: “Rishi Sunak is too weak to stand up to his party and protect children’s health. He crumbled in the face of opposition from his MPs and sacrificed his landmark Smoking Bill.”

Celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver speaks to then-prime minister Tony Blair (right) after delivering a petition demanding better food for pupils
Celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver speaks to then-prime minister Tony Blair after delivering a petition demanding better food for pupils (Russell Boyce/PA)

Oliver, who fronted a campaign to scratch Turkey Twizzlers and some other school dinner options from canteen menus during Tony Blair’s premiership, said: “Child health hasn’t been put central to any manifesto in the last 20 years, ever, ever, ever. You’ve never seen it on a bus with a number.”

The chef, from Essex, said in his video: “When we’ve got some of the most unhealthy kids in Europe, we need to not have one thing, we need many, many things that are going to help make our kids fitter, healthier, have better outcomes and just flourish and be more productive as adults, and cost the NHS less.”

Oliver described himself as “completely apolitical” and said: “You would be amazed if you saw how many kids have breakfast in the form of an energy drink.”

He alleged children are “bouncing off the walls” in the classroom but described Labour’s move as “really exciting” because “they’re looking at the detail, it means they’re looking at the science”.