Campaign group Action on Sugar has also called for measures such as a ban on energy drinks and smaller product sizes to be explored, saying that reductions in sugar and caffeine are ‘urgently needed’, while the NASUWT - a teachers’ union - has also been calling on the government to investigate the impact of the drinks on children's health and behavior.
According to Jamie Oliver’s campaign, 69% of children aged 10-18 report drinking energy drinks, with 13% admitting they drink a liter or more in one sitting.
Oliver also previously campaigned for the introduction of a sugar tax in the UK.
Energy drinks - what’s the problem?
Energy drinks are functional beverages with a stimulating effect and unique combinations of characterizing ingredients including caffeine, taurine, vitamins and other substances with a nutrition or physiological effect.
They have long come under fire for high levels of caffeine and sugar, particularly given that they often appeal to children and adolescents. In September the Canadian Paediatric Society slammed the beverages as ‘unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst’.
Meanwhile, various studies have highlighted other issues with energy drinks, such as a lack of understanding among children on the differences between standard soft drinks and energy drinks.
In this week’s ‘Friday Night Feast’ television program, Jamie Oliver and co-presenter Jimmy Doherty will take a closer look at energy drinks and call on viewers to help ‘start a revolution against fizzy energy drinks’.
“Some schools are fighting their own battle against these drinks, by banning them on the premises. But schools can only do so much on their own,” said Laura Matthews, Jamie Oliver’s head of nutrition. “We need the government to legally age-restrict the sale of energy drinks, in the same way that scratch cards are only sold to over-16s.
“So, let’s start a revolution against fizzy energy drinks, and protect our kids from the damaging sugar and caffeine levels in these products.”
It is calling on people to tweet the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, asking for a ban of sales of energy drinks to children U16, using the hashtag #NotForChildren.
Regulation and voluntary measures
Energy drinks can contain around 80mg of caffeine in a small 250ml can - around the same amount as a mug of instant coffee - meaning that 500ml can sizes can contain 160mg.
Many children drink fizzy energy drinks in volumes that ‘far exceed’ the recommended caffeine intake for their age and size, according to Jamie Oliver’s research.
“In fact, 69% of all 10 to 18 year olds in the UK report drinking energy drinks, with a shocking 13% saying they drink a whole liter (or more) in one sitting. That’s the equivalent of a grown man drinking 12 espresso coffees in one go!”
A typical energy drink contains 27.5g of total sugars in one 250ml can – equivalent to almost seven cubes of sugar. This is more than a child aged seven to 10 should consume in a whole day.
What’s the law?
EU legislation requires drinks with more than 150mg caffeine per liter to state: ‘High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women’.
Lithuania and Latvia have banned sales of energy drinks to under 18s.
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) also sets out further voluntary measures, such as including the statement ‘consume moderately’.
It also says marketing communications should not be placed in media where more than 35% of the audience is under 16; no commercial activity should take place in schools; and no advertising should be placed within 100m of school gates.
However, Oliver’s campaign highlights that these are not a legal requirements. “In fact, teenagers are often persuaded to consume these drinks via marketing messages that claim the product improves energy, sport or mental performance,” it says.
Waitrose bans energy drink sales to U16s
As of March 5, Waitrose will require customers who buy caffeinated energy drinks with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre to prove they are over 16 years old.
Waitrose says it is currently the only UK supermarket with such a policy.
Simon Moore, Waitrose Director of Technical & Corporate Social Responsibility, said: “As a responsible retailer we want to sell these products in line with the labeling guidance.
“These drinks carry advice stating that they are not recommended for children, so we’re choosing to proactively act on that guidance, particularly given the widespread concerns which have been raised about these drinks when consumed by under 16s.”
Campaign group Action on Sugar has welcomed Waitrose’s decision. Jenny Rosborough, Campaign Manager at Action on Sugar. said: “Energy drinks come with the warning label ‘not recommended for children’ yet they are sold freely to children without any enforcement.
“They form no part of a healthy diet and the sale of them should be banned for under 16-year-olds as Waitrose has boldly done. It’s shocking that other retailers are yet to do the same.”
Last month a study from Action on Sugar, published in BMJ Open, noted the sugar, caffeine and calorie levels of energy drink brands in 2015 and 2017.
It said that, despite industry efforts to reformulate energy drinks, the levels of sugar and caffeine per serving commonly exceed a child’s maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake.