Launched today, a government consultation outlines a ban that would apply to drinks with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre, and prevent all retailers from selling the drinks to children. It is now seeking views on whether sales of energy drinks to children should be stopped.
While a number of major retailers have already banned the sale of energy drinks to children, it is not a legal requirement and children can still easily buy energy drinks from convenience stores, other retailers and vending machines.
More than two-thirds of 10-17 year olds and a quarter of six to nine year olds consume energy drinks in the UK, according to the government.
Energy drinks and children – 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 nutritional 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 (the Canadian Paediatric Society has slammed the beverages as ‘unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst’.)
A 250ml can of energy drink can contain around 80mg of caffeine (320mg per litre) – the equivalent of nearly three cans of cola.
On average, non-diet energy drinks also contain 60% more calories and 65% more sugar than other, regular soft drinks.
Momentum has been gathering in the UK to restrict sales of energy drinks to children. In January, celebrity chef and health campaigner Jamie Oliver – who also campaigned for a UK sugar tax – called on the government to ban sales of energy drinks to U16s. Campaign group Action on Sugar has also called for a ban, while the NASUWT – a teacher’s union – has also asked to government to investigate the impact of the drinks on children’s health and behaviour.
Energy drinks: caffeine and sugar content
Red Bull and Monster both contain 32mg caffeine and 11g sugar per 100ml. This means a 250ml can contains 80mg of caffeine, around the same as a cup of coffee.
It also equates to 320mg per litre, meaning sales would be banned to children under current proposals.
Earlier this year supermarkets Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco, Asda and Aldi all announced bans on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.
In its consultation, the government recognises these voluntary efforts and adds: "Legislating to end the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to children would create a level playing field for businesses and create consistency, helping ensure that children do not have access to energy drinks in any shop.
"We are therefore consulting on ending the sale of energy drinks to children, but we are aware that the evidence base around these products and their effects is complex.
"We want to use this consultation to gather further views and evidence on the advantages and disadvantages of ending the sale of energy drinks to children, and on alternative options, before making a decision. We are also seeking views on how a restriction on sales of energy drinks to children would be enforced in a way that is fair and proportionate, and on the appropriate implementation period, in the event that Government does decide to take such an approach."
What would an energy drink children’s ban look like?
The UK government has today launched a consultation to seek views on the proposed ban on selling energy drinks to children.
It asks for views on what products should be included in the restrictions; and whether there are any changes that would be more appropriate than a ban on sales to children – or that could be applied as well as a ban.
The definition of children – whether under 16 or under 18 – is one of the parameters the consultation seeks feedback on. While an age limit of 16 would be in line with existing voluntary commitments from retailers, the consultation notes that 17 and 18 year olds are the highest consumers of energy drinks.
“We are hearing strong calls from parents, health professionals, teachers and some industry bodies and retailers for an end to sales of high-caffeine energy drinks to children," says the government in its consultation.
“Energy drinks are soft drinks that contain higher levels of caffeine than other soft drinks, and may also contain a lot of sugar. Evidence suggests that excessive consumption of energy drinks by children is linked to negative health outcomes such as headaches, sleeping problems, irritation and tiredness.
“Many larger retailers and supermarkets have voluntarily stopped selling energy drinks to under-16s.
“While we recognise the efforts of retailers who have already acted, there are still many retailers who continue to sell these drinks to children.”
The consultation - which can be found here - closes on November 21.
UK regulations and voluntary commitments for energy drinks
- Under current labelling rules, any drink, other than tea or coffee, that contains over 150mg of caffeine per litre requires a warning label saying: ‘High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women’.
- 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.
- Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco, Asda and Aldi have all banned the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.