‘It’s naïve to think teenagers will listen to the government on energy drinks’: Foodwatch

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Germany launches energy drink education campaign - but a ban on sales to under 16s is what's needed, says consumer group. Photo credit: iStock.com / KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Germany launches energy drink education campaign - but a ban on sales to under 16s is what's needed, says consumer group. Photo credit: iStock.com / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Related tags Energy drinks Caffeine functional beverage beverage

Only one out of 14 German retailers asked has age-restricted sales policies for energy drinks, showing the government’s soft voluntary approach is not enough, according to the German branch of the consumer group Foodwatch.

Foodwatch has long since been an advocate of mandatory age restrictions on the sale of energy drinks​, arguing the mandatory EU-wide label warnings enforced in 2014 were ineffective.

Under the European food labelling regulation Food Information to Consumers (FIC), supplements, foods and drinks with added caffeine content over 150 mg per litre must clearly carry the front-of-pack warning: "High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women." 

Yet Foodwatch says if the products aren’t meant for children, as the warning suggests, they should not be sold to this vulnerable population.

Foodwatch has been campaigning for similar measures to that seen in Lithuania, where a ban on advertisement and sale of energy drinks to under 18s​ was imposed in 2014.

germany europe german map iStock.com akinbostanci
Photo credits: iStock.com / akinbostanci

Yet the German government has responded with softer solutions, such as an education campaign launched last week with a website called 'Check Your Doses'.

Foodwatch campaigner Oliver Huizinga said this demonstrated increasing pressure on the government following a 26,936-strong petition to the German minister of food and agriculture Christian Schmidt last year. 

Yet asked if the education campaign was a step in the right direction, Huizinga said it was “ridiculous” ​and a “divisionary tactic”.

“It’s naïve to think that kids will listen to what the government is telling them to or not to do.”

Instead mandatory action was needed to stop the sale of energy drinks to under 16s, he said. 

A survey conducted by the pressure group found that only two retailers – both drugstores – had policies on the sale of the caffeinated energy drinks beyond that which is legally required.

Retail watch 

The retailer Rossmann voluntarily banned the sale of energy drinks to under 16s last autumn.

Drugstore DM said it did not sell energy drinks in general along with cigarettes, soft drinks or alcohol since such products were not in line with its health branding.

Meanwhile supermarket Globus said it would discuss the issue, although Foodwatch was yet to hear of any action on this.

The other retailers Aldi, Kaisers Tengelmann, Kaufland, Lidl, Norma, Penny, Real and Rewe confirmed to Foodwatch it did not have a policy on selling energy drinks to under 16s.

Supermarket Edeka said it had non-binding regional recommendations and according to Foodwatch chemist Müller declined to provide information.

Huizinga said the results of the survey clearly showed the need for mandatory age restrictions, something he said would also level the playing field for businesses already acting responsibly.

“We are not market radicals but we are in favour of regulation which is fair for everyone.”​ 

Age is just a number?

A study of a US military population​ published in the journal Addictive Behaviors Reports​ suggested the age children first start consuming energy drinks could predict  future single-occasion, high quantity consumption.

The researchers found the age range between 13 and 16 years to be a “critical period”​ in that those who began consuming energy drinks during this period were 4.88 times more likely to consume high quantities of four or more energy drinks in one sitting when compared to those who started consuming energy drinks between the ages of 20–23.

Likewise, those who began between 13 and 16 years were 2.48 times more likely to engage in this chronic consumption than those who started between 17 and 19 years.

However this starting age did not impact daily average intake or daily maximal intake of energy drinks.

Last year the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released its long awaited caffeine risk assessment, in which it concluded up to 400 mg of caffeine a day and 200 mg in a single dose for a general adult population was safe.

The opinion was criticised by the likes of Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which said the opinion did not account for chronic consumption coupled with things like binge drinking and therefore ignored the reality of energy drink consumption for many young people. 

Huizinga echoed this saying he believed many young people ignored the on-pack warnings. 

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