The UK government is set to ban the sale of Red Bull, Monster Energy and other energy drinks to children amid growing concern about the impact that the high-caffeine, high-sugar drinks are having on young people’s health. The Guardian reports that a consultation of how to implement the proposed ban has been unveiled with the principle question determined whether the purchasing restrictions will apply at the age of 16 or 18.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the consultation was linked to the government’s childhood obesity strategy and said it was necessary to examine the consumption of energy drinks “often because they are sold at cheaper prices than soft drinks”.
The report says the principal justification for the ban is the high level of caffeine in the energy drinks, which has been linked to a string of health problems for children, including head and stomach aches, as well as hyperactivity and sleep problems.
A 250ml can of Red Bull contains about 80mg of caffeine, roughly the same as a similarly sized cup of coffee, but three times the level of Coca-Cola. Monster Energy, which is often sold in larger cans of 500ml, contains 160mg of caffeine.
The report says energy drinks often also have higher levels of sugar than soft drinks. According to government figures, sugared energy drinks have 60% more calories and 65% more sugar than normal soft drinks and sugar is one of the largest causes of obesity.
Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef and food health campaigner, said he welcomed the prospect of a ban on energy drink sales because “too many children are regularly using them to replace breakfast” and “teachers from across the country have told me how their lessons are disrupted because of these drinks, packed with stimulants”.
The report says some major retailers already ban sales of energy drinks to youngsters, but cheap prices in other outlets mean that consumption by children in the UK is estimated by ministers to be 50% ahead of other countries in Europe. Two-thirds of children aged 10 to 17 and a quarter of six to nine-year-olds consume energy drinks, according to the government announcement.
Steve Brine, the public health minister, complained that “in some outlets it is possible to buy four 250ml cans of energy drink for £1”. The 12-week consultation proposes that a ban would apply to drinks that contain more than 150mg of caffeine per litre.
The report says drink brands such as Red Bull, Relentless, Monster Energy and Rockstar have become increasingly popular. Children and teenagers drink them more than adults, even though industry labelling guidelines state that any soft drink with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre must carry a warning about its content and state that it is not recommended for children. The compulsory health warnings read: “High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women or persons sensitive to caffeine.”
Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “There is no evidence that energy drinks have any nutritional value or place in the diet of children and young people. That’s why we’re pleased to see the government take action on this and other measures to tackle childhood obesity and improve children’s health.”
The report says the proposed ban only applies to England, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can all follow suit if their administrations wish. In March, several major supermarket chains announced that they would ban the sale of energy drinks to children under 16.
The teachers’ union NASUWT called last year for the sale of the drinks to under-16s to be banned by all retailers. Its national official for education, Darren Northcott, described the beverages as “legal highs” that helped to fuel bad behaviour in schools.
Mintel consumer data starts at the age of 16, with the biggest official UK market for energy drinks being boys aged 16 to 24, with 63% consuming them compared with 58% of girls. But, according to European Food Safety Authority research, two-thirds of 10 to 16-year-olds regularly consume energy drinks, along with 18% of three to 10-years-olds.
[link url="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/29/ban-sale-energy-drinks-to-children-uk-government-combat-obesity"]The Guardian report[/link]