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Trend Drink Bubble Tea: Health Risk for Small Children
Starch balls can make their way into the respiratory tract and impair breathing
Bubble Tea has developed into a trend drink that is very popular with children and teenagers in particular. The colourful drink consists of sweetened green or black tea with added milk or fruit syrup. As a special feature, little balls of starch (bubbles) filled with a sweet liquid are added to the drink. Bubble tea is drunk through a broad straw through which the bubbles are also sucked into the mouth. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is warning that the bubbles can penetrate into the respiratory tract. “Especially with children aged up to four years, there is a risk of foreign objects accidentally entering the lungs,” explains BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. “And that is precisely what can happen when the bubbles are sucked up through a straw“. Cases of this kind are foreseeable in the opinion of the BfR. Although reports in the press about the first accidents involving bubble tea have not yet been verified by the BfR, they are considered plausible. For this reason, the BfR recommends that a clear reference to this health risk be made wherever bubble tea is sold.
Little balls of starch can accidentally enter the lungs when drinking bubble tea. These bubbles, which are sucked up through a broad straw, are roughly 10 to 15 mm in diameter. They have a soft, rubbery consistency and are filled with a liquid.
The process of breathing foreign bodies into the lungs is referred to as “aspiration”. Various factors contribute towards aspiration accidents of this kind, one of which is sucking through a straw, because the epiglottis is lifted by the vacuum that is created in the pharyngeal cavity. When this happens, the trachea, which is normally closed when swallowing, is opened so that liquids or solids can easily find their way into the lungs. In addition to this, it is known that foreign bodies the size of peanuts are easily aspirated into the lungs, especially by children aged up to four years. The little balls used in bubble tea are of a similar size.
To date, no aspiration accidents caused by bubble tea have been reported to the BfR, although it should be noted that accidents of this kind are not systematically recorded in Germany. A health risk for small children is foreseeable, however. Reports in the press about the first accidents involving bubble tea have not yet been verified by the BfR, but they are considered plausible. For this reason, it should be pointed out wherever bubble tea is sold that the bubbles can easily find their way into the lungs when sucked up through a straw, especially by children aged up to four years. In addition to the corresponding notes on the products or in the product advertising, pictograms illustrating the danger of aspiration into the lungs are also conceivable.
About the BfR
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.