Experts call for age restrictions on the sale of energy drinks

December 4, 2017, Newcastle University
Credit: Newcastle University

Research led by Newcastle University shows that around one in three young people say that they regularly consume energy drinks, which typically contain high levels of caffeine and sugar.

The dangers of drinks are well documented with evidence indicating that regular or heavy use by under-18s is likely to be detrimental to their health.

This is the first study to explore in-depth the views of , as young as 10-years-old, on energy drinks and the research was published in the academic journal, PLOS ONE.

Study's findings

Researchers spoke to children and , aged 10-14 years old, from primary and secondary schools in Country Durham, North East England, and visited shops in the local area.

The experts discovered that energy drinks were:

  • Easily available to children and young people in local shops. The children were well aware of the different brands, key ingredients and some of the risks linked to drinking them. However, they were less certain about the amount of sugar and caffeine contained in the drinks.
  • Sold for as little as 25p (single cans are often on promotion, for example, four for £1) with some of the young people taking advantage of the offers by pooling their money and sharing the drinks.
  • Targeted at children online in pop-up adverts, on television, in computer games for over-18s, and through sports sponsorship. Some of the young people said that they chose energy drinks to 'fit in' or 'look tough' but others had made the decision, as a friendship group, to stop drinking them.
  • Linked to activities that could be considered attractive to young people, including music, extreme sports, sexuality (both masculinity and femininity), gaming, drinking alcohol and general risk-taking.

Health dangers

Dr Shelina Visram, from Newcastle University's Institute of Health and Society, led the study in collaboration with Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health.

She said: "This study looked at the complex mix of factors that impact on children and young people's attitudes in relation to energy drinks.

"Our participants were generally aware of the main energy drink brands, ingredients and . But they were also confused by the mixed messages from the soft drinks industry.

"By law, energy drink labels must include the warning 'not recommended for children' and yet participants as young as 10 years of age told us they could purchase these products in almost any shop, at affordable prices.

"This study provides important insights into the consumption choices of children and young people, and highlights the key role played by the marketing activities of energy drink companies. The findings should be used to inform policies and interventions that address the behaviours of manufacturers and retailers as well as children and parents."

Existing research cited in the paper shows that use of energy drinks by under-18s is associated with a range of negative effects and unhealthy behaviours, including physical health complaints, such as headaches, palpitations and insomnia, and higher rates of alcohol, smoking and drug use.

The children and young people in the study were aware of the potential risks involved in energy drinks.

During focus groups many of the participants suggested putting age restrictions on energy drinks, similar to those on cigarettes and alcohol.

Proposals were also put forward to position drinks away from children and young people in shops, and study participants wanted the labelling on energy drinks to be clear and understandable, for example by showing sugar content per spoonful.

The UK government has already announced a tax on as a step towards tackling childhood obesity, but energy drinks usually contain high amounts of both sugar and caffeine. The authors would now like the government to go a step further.

Dr Amelia Lake, Fuse Associate Director, said: "While this is a small study in one part of England it gives us a huge amount of insight.

"What's interesting is the young people are essentially asking why these drinks are being sold and marketed to them when we know they are not good for them.

"They are telling us that energy drinks cost less than water or pop!

"They are asking, why aren't energy drinks age restricted like cigarettes? Why can they get them so easily? But they are also well aware there isn't a simple solution.

"Schools have tried restricting these drinks - now it's time to try and do something more central. These drinks are a problem and a government solution is needed."

Energy drink sales

On average, young people in the UK consume more energy drinks than those in other European countries. Sales of in the UK increased by 185% between 2006 and 2015, with 672 million litres drunk in 2015 and a total market value of over £2 billion.

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 caffeine per day for an average 11-year-old.

Explore further: Serious health risks associated with energy drinks

More information: Shelina Visram et al. Children and young people's perceptions of energy drinks: A qualitative study, PLOS ONE (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0188668

Related Stories

Serious health risks associated with energy drinks

November 15, 2017
A new review of current scientific knowledge on energy drinks finds their advertised short-term benefits can be outweighed by serious health risks—which include risk-seeking behavior, mental health problems, increased blood ...

Policy makers must act to reduce energy drinks consumption by children and adolescents, says new report

July 22, 2016
UK policy makers must act against excessive energy drinks consumption by children and young people, argues a new report published by the Food Research Collaboration, an initiative of the Centre for Food Policy (City University ...

Identifying ways to minimize the harm of energy drinks

October 5, 2017
Because many countries allow the sale of energy drinks to young people, identifying ways to minimize potential harm from energy drinks is critical. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior ...

Concern grows over high-caffeine drinks availability

November 30, 2015
Concern is growing even stronger among West Australians about the sale of caffeinated energy drinks to kids aged under 12, with health researchers calling for government policy to restrict sales to young people.

Many children and adolescents get too much caffeine from energy drinks

December 18, 2014
When children aged 10-14 consume energy drinks, one in five consumes too much caffeine. When their caffeine intake from other sources such as cola and chocolate is included, every second child and more than one in three adolescents ...

US teen dies of caffeine overdose

May 17, 2017
A coffee, a caffeinated drink and an energy soda proved a deadly combination for a South Carolina teenager who died within two hours of consuming them, triggering warnings about the risks of caffeine overdose.

Recommended for you

Lowering hospitals' Medicare costs proves difficult

July 18, 2018
A payment system that provides financial incentives for hospitals that reduce health-care costs for Medicare patients did not lower costs as intended, according to a new study led by Washington University School of Medicine ...

Vaping tied to blood clots—in mice

July 18, 2018
A new study involving mice raises another concern about the danger of e-cigarettes in humans after experiments showed that short-term exposure to the device's vapors appeared to increase the risk of clot formation.

People who tan in gyms tan more often, and more addictively, than others, new research shows

July 18, 2018
Gyms are places people go to get healthier. But nearly half the gyms in the U.S. contain a potentially addictive carcinogen—tanning beds, report UConn researchers in the July 18 issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Eating iron-fortified grain improves students' attention, memory

July 18, 2018
Adolescent students in a rural school in India who consumed an iron-biofortified version of the grain pearl millet exhibited improved attention and memory compared to those who consumed conventional pearl millet, according ...

Omega 3 supplements have little or no heart or vascular health benefit: review

July 17, 2018
New evidence published today shows there is little or no effect of omega 3 supplements on our risk of experiencing heart disease, stroke or death.

Study shows that people most affected by alcohol also most impacted by sleep deprivation

July 17, 2018
A team of researchers from the German Aerospace Center and Forschungszentrum Jülich has found that people who are most susceptible to alcohol intoxication are also most susceptible to cognitive problems due to sleep deprivation. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.