Government urged to ban energy drink sales for under-16s over health concerns
The sale of energy drinks to children under 16 should be banned following studies linking them to a range of health complaints and risky behaviours, according to a report.
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A review of worldwide evidence on energy drinks links them to headaches, stomach aches and sleep problems, while emergency department visits associated with their consumption in the US doubled between 2007 and 2011, the report published by the Food Research Collaboration, an initiative of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, said.
They are also associated with behaviours such as binge drinking and drug use, according to data cited in the report.
Sales of energy drinks in the UK increased by 155% between 2006 and 2014, from 235 to 600 million litres.
The paper, written by Dr Shelina Visram from Durham University and Kawther Hashem from the health charity Action on Sugar, says consumption among children globally is growing, with the 10- to 14-year-old group expected to increase its intake by 11% over the five years to 2019.
A survey involving 16 European countries including the UK found that 68% of 11 to 18-year-olds and 18% of children aged 10 and under consume energy drinks, with 11% of the older group and 12% of children drinking at least a litre in a single session.
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A single can of popular brands on the market can contain around 160mg of caffeine, while the European Food Safety Authority recommends an intake of no more than 105mg of caffeine per day for an average 11-year-old.
The report proposes legislation banning the sale of energy drinks to under-16s and a ban on marketing targeted at children.
Other potential steps could include in-school interventions and the implementation of shared strategies on energy drinks and children by local and health authorities, it said.
Dr Visram, lecturer in public policy and health at Durham University, said: “Youth energy drink consumption is a growing public health concern due to the high caffeine and sugar contents of these drinks.
“More research is needed to understand the short and long-term effects in terms of health, well-being and educational outcomes. However, the available evidence indicates that these drinks are associated with a range of health complaints and risky behaviours in school-age children.
“Action is needed by local and national government to restrict the sale and marketing of these drinks to young people.”
Hashem, a registered nutritionist and researcher at Action on Sugar based at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Children and teenagers are being deceived into drinking large cans of energy drinks, thinking they are going to improve their performance at school, during sports, or even on a night out.
“In reality it is more likely increasing their risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental caries, which will have lifelong implications on their health.
“The government needs to set strict limits on added sugars in these products and ban the sale to children under 16 because of their high caffeine, calorie and sugar content.”
British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington said: “The latest review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2015 confirms that energy drinks are safe and make up a very small part of the caffeine intake of adolescents and a negligible amount among children.
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“With a 250ml can of energy drink typically containing about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, there is no scientific justification to treat energy drinks differently than the main contributors to daily caffeine intake in all age groups – including tea, coffee and chocolate.
“Energy drinks producers provide caffeine content on all labelling and market their products responsibly by recommending consumption in moderation and not promoting these drinks to children.”
A government spokeswoman said: “Most energy drinks will be caught by the soft drinks industry levy.
“The money then raised by the levy will go towards tackling obesity by investing in school sports, breakfast clubs and after school activities for secondary schools.”