20 teaspoons of sugar in an energy drink: Campaign group calls for ban of sales to U16s

Thought soft drinks were sugary? Look at energy drinks! says Action on Sugar

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Thought soft drinks were sugary? Look at energy drinks! says Action on Sugar

Related tags Energy drinks Sugar Soft drink functional beverage beverage

Energy drinks contain up to 20 teaspoons of sugar per 500ml serving – more than three times the maximum adult daily intake of free sugars a day, according to research released by Action on Sugar. 

The UK campaign group is calling for a ban on sales of energy drinks to children under 16, saying that youngsters are often deceived into thinking consumption will improve their performance at school, sports, or social occasions.

Rather, it says energy drinks "serve no purpose whatsoever, but make children addicted to caffeine and habituated to sugars".

‘Unnecessary’ levels of sugar

Out of 197 energy drinks surveyed, half (101 drinks) contained the same or more sugar than Coca-Cola, per 100ml – the equivalent of nine teaspoons of sugar per 330ml can.

78% would fall into the category of ‘red’ (high) labeling for sugar per serving.

In the survey, the highest sugar level per portion was found in Rockstar Punched Energy + Guava Tropical Guava Flavor. This product has 20 teaspoons of sugar (78g) in a 500ml can.

Other high sugar contents were found in Sainsbury’s Orange Energy Drink 1L (15.9g / 100ml); Red Devil Energy Drink 250ml (15g /100ml) and Lucozade Energy Pink Lemonade/Caribbean Crush 1L (14g / 100ml).

Action on Sugar says the levels are unnecessarily high, given that other energy drinks show it is possible to use much less sugar (Monster Khaos Energy + Juice has around half the amount of sugar as the worst offenders, coming in at 7.8g/100ml)

Soft drinks and energy drinks

The sugar content of soft drinks has drawn plenty of attention for some time. But Kawther Hashem, nutritionist, Action on Sugar, told BeverageDaily.com energy drinks are relatively new to the market – and are easily accessible to children and teenagers. 

“Certainly over the last five years, 10 years, energy drinks have become more common on the market,” ​she said. 

“Now every convenience store has energy drinks sold by major brands. We’re looking at data on convenience stores which shows a lot of sales are happening there.”

Action on Sugar says immediate action needs to be taken on energy drinks because of levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes among young people, which are ‘spiraling out of control.’

It is also concerned about the levels of caffeine found in energy drinks, with concerns raised about the potential effect on neurological development.

Energy drinks companies may claim their marketing does not target children​, but Kawther is unconvinced.

“It’s an easy thing to say,” ​she said. “However, I do think their marketing appeals to teenagers. If companies think it does not appeal to teenagers, they should back us up and support a ban.”

Low and no calorie options are available: British Soft Drinks Association

Gavin Partington, BSDA Director General, responded to Action on Sugar's survey.

“These products are called energy drinks for a reason - they deliver a caffeine or glucose-based energy boost,”​ he said.

“They are now available in a variety of types, flavors and sizes, including a range of low and no calorie options, so that consumers have a much wider choice.

“BSDA members do not promote energy drinks to children under 16 and all products are clearly labelled in compliance with EU regulations.”

BeverageDaily.com has contacted the companies named by Action on Sugar for comment. 

A Sainsbury's spokesperson said: “Over the last year we have removed 2,256 tonnes sugar per year from our own brand soft drinks range and we offer sugar free options.” 

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