The Science and Technology Committee published a report last week (December 4th) advising that there should be more prominent advisory notices on energy drinks.
It stated: “The Report recommends that the Government should use the opportunity of leaving the EU to introduce additional labelling requirements to ensure that advisory messages are not merely in 'the small print', enabling more informed decision prior to purchase.”
The report came in response to research showing that young people in the UK are the biggest consumers of energy drinks in Europe for their age.
The Committee therefore wanted to understand whether the caffeine in energy drinks had a negative health effect on young people and explore whether the decision taken by some retailers to ban their sale to under 16s should be extended to all retailers through legislation.
The Committee concluded: “…drinking energy drinks is correlated with young people engaging in other risky behaviours such as drinking alcohol and smoking, but it is not possible to determine whether there is any causal link.”
It reasoned that societal concerns could justify a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children but current evidence is not sufficient to warrant a statutory ban. It therefore recommended that the Government commission independent research to establish whether energy drinks have more harmful effects than other soft drinks containing caffeine.
Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “Throughout this inquiry, the Committee has heard a range of concerns warning of the impact energy drinks can have on the behaviour of young people. This varied from a lack of concentration in the classroom and hyperactivity to the effects on physical health. It’s clear from the evidence we received that disadvantaged children are consuming energy drinks at a higher rate than their peers.
“Although the Committee feels there is not enough scientific evidence alone to support a blanket ban, we support voluntary bans by retailers— many of whom have recognised the negative impact associated with such products. The Government needs to commission independent research to see whether energy drinks are more harmful than other soft drinks.
“It would be legitimate for the Government to go beyond the evidence that is available at the moment and implement a statutory ban based on societal concerns and evidence, such as the experience of school teachers and pupils. If the Government decides to introduce a ban it should explain why it has come to this decision.”
The European Food Safety Authority states that a safe level of 3mg per kg of body weight per day is proposed for habitual caffeine consumption by children and adolescents. A standard 250ml can of energy drink contains 80 mg.
Campaign group disappointment
Children’s Food Campaign Group has said it is ‘incredibly disappointed’ that the Government has been directed to do further research and the group’s co-ordinator Barbara Crowther said she hopes the Government will choose to move to an immediate ban.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to see their recommendation to Government to delay a decision on statutory regulation for six months in order to gather more scientific data to see whether drinks containing caffeine have a significantly more harmful effect on children than other soft drinks,” said Crowther.
“We hope the Government will reject this notion completely and move to introduce a sales ban to all under-18s in 2019.”
Reasons to ban
Crowther points out that EU regulations already require energy drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine to be labelled 'not suitable for children'.
“If drinks are not suitable for consumption by children, then sales to them should also be restricted in a consistent manner, applying the existing definitions of a child,” she reasons.
She also reasons that setting a ban at 18 would address concerns from secondary school teachers - 97% of whom were found to be in favour of a ban in a survey carried out by the campaign group.
She says that teachers have to deal with the effects of energy drinks, including hyperactivity, lethargy, headaches and heart palpitations.
She adds: “Lithuania and Latvia have already introduced a ban on energy drinks sales to under-18s, and other countries around the world are also looking at potential restrictions. The UK has stated its ambition to be a global leader on tackling childhood obesity and nutritional health, and a ban at 18 will best demonstrate this leadership.”