Five things to know about why we need a ban on energy drinks to children

Five things to know about why we need a ban on energy drinks to children

Yesterday we submitted our response to the Department of Health And Social Care’s consultation to end the sale of energy drinks to children in England.


The consultation was launched back in August, and after 12 long weeks of collecting views on a wide range of stakeholders about the support and best possible ways to implement a sales restriction on energy drinks to children (including whether the age restriction should be set at age 16 or 18) – yesterday, it officially closed.

Food Active fully support a ban on the sales of high-caffeine energy drinks to children. We have been campaigning to highlight the health harms of sugar-sweetened beverages since 2015 through our GULP (Give Up Loving Pop) programme. We have supported several campaigns calling for more awareness of the dangers of energy drinks including HYPER and #NotForChildren and yesterday we submitted our response in support of legislation to restrict access to children and young people, along with a number of signatories from the Food Active network.

But why are there such concerns about energy drinks? Is there any evidence that they are harmful to children and young people? In light of the consultation coming to a close, we discuss the most important reasons why we are supporting an end to the sale of energy drinks to children.

5 things you need to know about why we need to ban energy drinks to children:

1. Fuelling excess sugar intake: Consumption of sugary drinks (including energy drinks) by children and young people is  a public health concern due to the implications associated with excessive sugar intake, which include dental erosion, weight gain and the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes [1]. Just today it was reported by Diabetes UK that 7,000 under 25’s in England and Wales have type 2 diabetes – ten times the figure previously reported. Research shows teenagers in the UK consume more energy drinks than any other European country [2]. One 500ml can of Monster Origin contains a staggering 55g of free sugars – exceeding the daily recommended intake of free sugars for children aged over 11 and adults of 30g daily by almost 50%, in just one serving. This contributes to an even greater proportion of children under the age of 11’s free sugar intake, with 4-7-year olds recommended to consume a maximum of 19g and 7-10-year olds a maximum of 24g. All of these implications on health associated with excess sugar intake, including through consumption of energy drinks, are posing an entirely preventable and unsustainable burden on our already fragile NHS.

2. Health implications of high caffeine intake:  There are currently no UK guidelines on caffeine consumption for children and young people, however existing evidence suggests 2.5mg/kg body mass per day is a safe amount of caffeine for children and adolescents [3]. To put this into context, a 16-year-old girl, weighing roughly 57 kg, would be safe to consume around 142 mg daily. A 500ml can of Monster Origin contains 160mg of caffeine in one serving, regardless of caffeine contained within other sources of food and drink a 16-year-old may consume including tea and chocolate. To put into context, this would be the equivalent of drinking two shots of espresso coffee [4]. Research shows that high caffeine intake in particularly children and young people can cause immediate health problems associated with consumption include headaches, irritation, stomach aches and sleeping problems [6].

3. Additional ‘health halo’ ingredients: Energy drinks often add a wide range of additional ingredients that are marketed for their benefits to health and stimulant properties, such as Taurine. Whilst the evidence is limited in relation to impact on health, countries such as France, Denmark, Norway and Uruguay have banned energy drinks over concerns regarding the ingredient taurine.

4. Impacts on school life and behaivour: A number of the small group of parents and teachers we spoke to consistently raised concerns about the impact consumption of energy drinks have on children and young people in the school environment. One teacher said: “It makes them (pupils) too hyper and a nightmare to teach, this in turn effects their educational development” . Another larger study by the Children’s Food Campaign found that 97% of the 768 teachers they spoke to backed proposed restrictions on sales of high caffeine energy drinks to children and the largest the teachers union in the UK NASWUT has also raised concerns about the impact energy drinks have on pupils in the school environment.

5. Voluntary supermarket bans are not working: In 2018, many supermarkets introduced a voluntary ban on the sale of energy drinks to under 16’s, including Tesco, Aldi and Asda. This was a positive move by retailers who should be commended for taking action in their own outlets to restrict the availability to energy drinks to minors. However, this move was not seen across the board of retailers, so outlets such as larger and independent corner shops and convenience stores are still allowing under 16s to purchase these drinks. Furthermore, a recent study found that the majority (54%) of underage “mystery shoppers” who were sent into outlets of the major supermarkets who had publicly committed to the ban were able to buy energy drinks unchallenged [6]. This very timely and important piece of evidence demonstrates that voluntary measures are not an effective way of ensuring that minors cannot purchase energy drinks, indicating that mandatory legislation is the most suitable action.

These are just some of the many reasons why we support a sales restriction on energy drinks to children and we look forward in anticipation to the outcomes of the consultation process. To find out more and to read our official response to the consultation, follow the link below.

Ending the sale of energy drinks to children: Food Active response

 

References:

[1] Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Carbohydrates and Health. London: TSO, 2015.

[2] Nomisma-Arete Consortium. External scientific report. Gathering consumption data on specific consumer groups of EDs. Parma, Italy: European Food Safety Authority, 2013.

[3] Wilkoff, D. Welsh, BT. Henderson, R. Brorby, GP. Britt, J. Myers, E. Goldberger, J. Lieberman, HR. O’Brien, C. Peck, J. Tenenbein, M. Weaver, C. Harvey, S. Urban, J. and Doepker, C. (2017). Systematic review of the potential adverse effects of caffeine consumption in healthy adults, pregnancy women, adolescents and children. Food Chemical Toxicology. 109, pp.585-648.

[4] Jamie Oliver (2018) Energy drinks are #NotForChildren [online] Available at: https://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/energy-drinks-are-not-for-children/ [Accessed: 7th November 2018]

[5] Huhtinen H, Lindfors P, Rimpelä A. Adolescents’ use of EDs and caffeine induced health complaints in Finland. European Journal of Public Health. 2013;23(suppl. 1):166.

[6] Telegraph (2018) Supermarkets selling energy drinks despite ban [online] Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/11/20/supermarkets-selling-energy-drinks-children-despite-ban/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_tw [Accessed: 21st November 2018]


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