Slushies – the colourful ice-slush drinks often seen at cinemas, bowling allies and theme parks – should not be drunk by children under the age of 4, says the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA).


And retailers should not be offering free refills to children under the age of 10, as children this age should not drink too many slushies at once.

Why are slushies not suitable for children under 4?

Slushies can contain an ingredient called glycerol (a substitute for sugar). It's this added glycerol that gives the drink its 'slush' effect. But the amount of glycerol required to create the slush makes the drink unsuitable for consumption by children aged 4 and under. At this level, says the FSA, the glycerol can cause side effects such as headaches, nausea and sickness – particularly when consumed in excess.

The FSA has advised slushie brands that sales points for these drinks that contain glycerol should be clearly marked: "Not recommended for children 4 years of age or under".

What about children over 4? Is it safe for them to have slushies?

Yes but, says Adam Hardgrove, the FSA's Head of Additives, "it's important that parents are aware of the risks – particularly at high levels of consumption."

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Though children over the age of 4 are heavier and therefore less likely to be as affected by exposure to glycerol as younger children, an FSA risk assessment has found that children under 10 can also suffer headaches and sickness.

And, at very high levels of glycerol consumption – drinking lots of slushes in a short space of time – something called glycerol intoxication can set in, potentially causing shock, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and loss of consciousness.

According to the FSA, there have been two cases in Scotland where children were hospitalised because of glycerol intoxication.

For this reason, the FSA is now asking retailers not to offer free slushie refills to children under 10.

What is glycerol?

Glycerol is also called glycerine and is a colourless, odourless, sweet-tasting compound which can make a substance sticky and is used as a sugar substitute.

It has lots of uses: it is found in cough mixture and in laxatives (it pulls water into the poo, making it easier to pass). It is also used in moisturiser and other substances, as well as slushies.

What exactly is glycerol intoxication?

Glycerol intoxication happens when a large amount of glycerol is ingested, generally over a short period of time. Symptoms may be mild and include a headache and sickness, so it's possible that glycerol intoxication is more common than we think, as we parents might think a headache or feeling sick is due to something else.

In more severe cases, glycerol intoxication can lead to hypoglycaemia, where the levels of glucose in the blood fall dangerously low. It can also lead to shock and loss of consciousness. Symptoms of more severe glycerol intoxication can include confusion, feeling very hungry and dizziness.

What do I do if I think my child has glycerol intoxication?

If you are concerned that your child has symptoms such as headache and hunger, then do give your child something sweet to eat or drink (such as a juice) to try to increase their blood sugar.

If the symptoms aren't improving or your child become mores seriously unwell – for example, becoming limp or confused – seek urgent medical assistance.

Is there glycerol in other foods?

Glycerol is found in other foods and it may be that some maufacturers have increased their use of the substance as a sugar substitute after the sugar tax was introduced.

Glycerol or glycerine may be found in sweets, cereals, marshmallows and even precooked pasta/rice (to stop it sticking together). However, in these foods it is likely to be in a much lower amount than in a slushie, so it's very unlikely to cause an issue.

Pic: Getty


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Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice.