A new study published in the Public Health journal this month reviewed 57 studies: with the authors saying their work ‘adds to the growing evidence that energy drink consumption by children and young people is associated with numerous adverse physical and mental health outcomes.’
While the UK government announced its intention to ban energy drink sales in 2019, there has been no further action.
Energy drinks typically contain around 160-200mg of caffeine per can, while a typical cup of coffee contains around 80mg. Drinks are often also high in sugar.
In response to the review, the Children’s Food Campaign, Food Active and 39 other health organisations, researchers and public health leaders have written urgent appeals to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Victoria Atkins, and also to the Labour shadow health team, asking them ‘how much more evidence is needed before the Government keeps a promise to restrict sales of high caffeine energy drinks to under-16s’.
Barbara Crowther, Children's Food Campaign Manager at Sustain, said: “It’s not right that companies are profiting from energy drinks when evidence shows they’re harming children and young people’s health. These concerning findings should prompt our government to act. But they’ve been disappointingly silent on the issue for the past five years. Over that time, energy drinks companies have increasingly targeted young people with even higher caffeine content drinks, putting more of them at risk.
"We need our government to step up and follow through with their planned restriction of sales of these drinks to under 16s.”
Signatories to the letters also include the lead author of the report Dr Amelia Lake from Teesside University, plus the Obesity Health Alliance, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, British Dental Association, British Dietetic Association, Diabetes UK, Association of Directors of Public Health, the Food Foundation, British Medical Asssociation, Obesity Empowerment Network, World Cancer Research Fund, Action on Sugar and 11 local directors of public health.
The review covers 1.2 million children and young people from more than 21 countries.
It found a ‘strong positive association’ between energy drink consumption and smoking, alcohol use, binge drinking, other substance use and intentions to initiate those behaviors.
It also found associations with short sleep duration, poor sleep quality and low academic performance: as well as noting increased risk of suicide, phycological distress, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms, depressive and panic behaviors, allergic diseases, insulin resistance and dental problems.
The energy drink category is worth an extra £390.2m in 2023 after 81.4 million more litres went through tills, according to new market data published by The Grocer in December 2023. Total category sales reached £2,217m in the 53 weeks to September 2023, up 21.6% on the previous year.
Many large UK retailers have voluntarily stopped selling energy drinks to U16s, but campaigners highlight they are still sold in smaller stores.
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) and its members have a voluntary code of practice, where they agree not to market or promote energy drinks to U16s.
According to the commitments, no commercial activity relating to energy drinks should be undertaken in schools and no static outdoor advertising for energy drinks should be placed within 100 meters of school main gates.