SEOUL, Feb. 1 (Korea Bizwire) — The government’s move to ban the sale of coffee drinks at schools across South Korea is drawing criticism, despite the well-intentioned goal to reduce caffeine intake among students.
The rationale behind the coffee ban is to prohibit the consumption of high-caffeine drinks, which can cause shakiness, rapid heart rate, sleep disorders and other types of psychological problems, and instead encourage students to opt for more healthy options like dairy beverages and vegetable juices.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety singled out coffee beverages, which on average contain 449.1 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram, surpassing the recommended daily intake of 400 milligrams for adults.
Currently, the food ministry recommends that adults consume less than 400 milligrams of caffeine, while the amount is limited to 300 milligrams for pregnant women, and 2.5 milligrams per 1 kilogram for adolescents.
While the food ministry hopes to eradicate all coffee drinks from schools under the new ban, which is expected to enter effect as early as July, the logistics of keeping students’ hands off coffee drinks has proved to be a controversial topic.
According to the policy proposal, coffee drinks will disappear from vending machines in schools, where they have been available for teachers and school officials, but many find it doubtful the legislation will actually be the end of coffee drinking for students.
One high school in Seoul has a convenience store located only 80 meters away, easily accessed by students, due to the community’s dense population. It is not uncommon for students to leave school to visit the convenience store for a wider range of options.
“If school cafeterias no longer sell coffee drinks, we’ll go out to get them. Why are they banning them? I think it’s useless,” said Jang, a 19-year-old high school student, sounding unaffected.
Many believe the government’s move will only drive students out of school during breaks, as convenience stores are ubiquitous in most neighborhoods around the country.
The move to ban the sale of an entire type of food or drink is relatively unprecedented, though the Seoul Metropolitan Government has designated over 8,500 areas as ‘Green Food Zones’ where food sold near schools is heavily monitored.
Others criticized the fact that coffee is only the tip of the iceberg, given the unhealthy options that are still available at school cafeterias such as burgers and packaged noodles.
More than anything, criticism has been leveled against the government for going after what many see as a small issue dwarfed by a much bigger problem – students spending too much time studying at school.
Opponents of the coffee ban are angry that the proposed measure fails to address the underlying issue of ‘studying too hard’ that has prompted students to need caffeine to stay awake in the first place.
Comments have piled up on the major South Korean web portal Daum, including one from a user named ‘Lee Jin-hee’ who accused the latest move by the government of being hit-and-miss.
“If students are feeling tired, the environment shouldn’t be changed, which is the reason for caffeine consumption to begin with. Students who study for over nine hours plus evening self-study sessions should not be deprived of coffee, as they will end up dozing off like baby chicks.”
As criticism mounts over the effectiveness of the measure, the bill banning coffee is set to face questions from the public despite having been recently passed by the Health & Welfare Committee at the National Assembly.
Nearly one in four high school students in South Korea sleeps fewer than six hours at night due to excessive studying, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education last year.
Ashley Song (firstname.lastname@example.org)