The decision follows a government consultation on proposals last year and increasing support for restricting energy drink sales.
While a number of major retailers have already banned the sale of energy drinks to children, it has not been a legal requirement and energy drinks remain readily available from other retailers, convenience stores and vending machines.
“Research has suggested that excessive consumption of energy drinks by children may affect some children adversely,” according to documents published by the UK government yesterday. “In addition, energy drink consumption has also been associated with unhealthy behaviours and deprivation.
“Last year we consulted on ending the sale of energy drinks to children. The consultation showed overwhelming public support, with 93% of consultation respondents agreeing that businesses should be prohibited from selling these drinks to children. Teachers and health professionals, in particular, were strong in their support for the government to take action.
“Therefore, we can now announce that the government will end the sale of energy drinks to children under the age of 16.
“We will be setting out the full policy in our consultation response shortly.”
Energy drinks and children – what’s the problem?
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 are functional beverages with a stimulating effect and unique combinations of characterising 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.
Current guidance by The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) points to a safe level of three milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight per day for habitual caffeine consumption by children and adolescents.
A 250ml can of energy drink can contain around 80mg of caffeine (320mg per litre) – the equivalent of nearly three cans of cola or one strong cup of coffee. On average, non-diet energy drinks also contain 60% more calories and 65% more sugar than other, regular soft drinks.
Celebrity chef and health campaigner Jamie Oliver, who previously campaigned for a UK sugar tax, has been among those calling for a ban on energy drink sales to U16s. Last year supermarkets Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco, Asda and Aldi all announced bans on the sale of energy drinks to U16s.
Responsible sales of energy drinks
The British Soft Drinks Association welcomes the government's decision, saying it is in line with the industry's policy on responsible sales of energy drinks.
Gavin Partington, director general, said: “The BSDA has consistently supported the ban on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s by retailers as it is in line with our long-standing Code of Practice. Therefore, we welcome the Health Secretary’s endorsement of this approach.
“Energy drinks and their ingredients have been deemed safe by regulatory authorities around the world. Our members do not market or promote energy drinks to under 16s, nor do they sample products with this age group. In addition, energy drinks carry an advisory note stating ‘Not recommended for children’.
“We remain committed to supporting the responsible sale of energy drinks.”
Regulations around energy drinks vary according to market: Lithuania and Latvia, for example, have banned sales to U18s.