Energy drinks ban would be welcomed by campaigners

  • Recently published research by Fuse found that drinking energy drinks is associated with an increased risk of mental health issues among children and young people, including anxiety, stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts
  • The researchers and more than 40 health related organisations called on government to finally restrict the sale and marketing of energy drinks to children and young people.

Restrictions on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s would be welcomed by a Fuse academic who has long warned about the dangerous impact the drinks have on children.

It is understood that a ban on sale of energy drinks to people aged under 16 is being considered by the Labour Party as part of its forthcoming election manifesto.

Professor Amelia Lake is Associate Director of Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, and Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Teesside University.

Earlier this year, Professor Lake led a comprehensive review looking at data from 57 studies of over 1.2 million children and young people from more than 21 countries, on the mental and physical harms associated with consuming energy drinks.

This built on earlier research but highlighted more risks associated with the drinks, which typically contain high levels of caffeine and sugar.

Welcoming the news that a ban on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s could be a step closer, Professor Lake said:

"Our research shows that there is an international body of evidence that associates energy drinks with harmful physical and mental health issues, as well as impacting on their educational attainment.

"We need to see clear messaging that these drinks are not suitable for children and young people. An outright ban of their sales to under 16s makes it clear."

Building on earlier research

The latest research is an update to a review in 2016. It found that energy drink consumption was more common among boys than girls, and was also associated with increased risky behaviours such as substance use, violence, and unsafe sex. The research also links consumption of the drinks with an increased risk of poor academic performance, sleep problems, and unhealthy dietary habits.

In 2017, the same researchers from Fuse were the first to publish research exploring in-depth the views of children, as young as 10-years-old, on energy drinks. The academics called on the UK government to take action on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s after finding that they were being sold to young people cheaper than bottled water.

The research revealed that energy drinks were easily available in local shops; sold for as little as 25p (‘four for £1’ promotions); targeted at children through online adverts, computer games, television and sports sponsorship; and linked to extreme sports, gaming, sexuality, gender, and use of sexualised imagery.

Previous research had also found that up to a third of children in the UK consume caffeinated energy drinks on a weekly basis and that young people in the UK were the biggest consumers of energy drinks in Europe for their age group.

National campaign

Professor Amelia Lake was involved in a national campaign, fronted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, to restrict the sale of energy drinks to teenagers, and gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on the effects of energy drinks on young people’s mental and physical health. Many large UK supermarkets subsequently agreed to ban the sale of energy drinks to children.  

Regulation in other countries

A number of countries have attempted to regulate energy drinks, including bans on sales to under 18s in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The UK government ran a consultation on ending the sale of energy drinks to children in England and also proposed this in their 2019 green paper ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’. While 93% of respondents to the consultation supported restricting sales to under 16s, there has been no further action. In 2022, the devolved government in Wales launched its own consultation to ban the sales of energy drinks to under 16s.

What are energy drinks?

The UK Food Standards Agency says that energy drinks are generally drinks with high levels of caffeine. They are usually marketed as giving a mental and physical 'boost' by providing more ‘energy’ than regular soft drinks. They are different to ‘sports drinks’ which might be used to replace electrolytes lost during exercise. Caffeine levels in a can of energy drink can vary between 80mg (equivalent to two cans of cola or a mug of instant coffee) and 200mg (equivalent to five cans of cola).

Read the journal paper in full here

Letter to the Rt Hon Victoria Atkins MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Letter to Wes Streeting MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Find out more

Timeline of Fuse’s energy drink research activity and impact can be found here:

This research has been summarised in the following:

Last modified: Sat, 10 Feb 2024 10:31:53 GMT