Young people in the UK drink more energy drinks than any other countries in Europe

Lake, Shelina Visram, The Conversation, June 8, 2018

It would
be a bit shocking to see children and teenagers drinking espressos, yet it’s
socially acceptable for young people to reach for energy drinks to give them a
quick “boost”. 
As a
nation, we drink 679m litres of the stuff every year. shutterstock

by the economic crisis, energy drinks are the fastest growing sector of the
soft drinks market. Between 2006 and 2012 consumption
of energy drinks
in the UK increased by 12.8% – from 235m to 475m

drinks are very popular
with young people
– despite coming with a warning (in small letters
on the back) that they are “not recommended for children”. A survey conducted
across 16 European countries found that young people between the ages of ten
and 18 in the UK consume more
energy drinks
on average than young people in other countries – just
over three litres a month, compared to around two litres in other places.
More than
two-thirds of young people surveyed in the UK had consumed energy drinks in the
past year. And 13% identified as high chronic consumers – drinking them four to
five times a week or more. Research also suggests that these drinks are more
popular with boys and young men.
What goes
into energy drinks?
drinks are usually non-alcoholic and contain ingredients known to have
stimulant properties. They are marketed as a way to relieve fatigue and improve
performance: “Red Bull gives you wings”.
contain high levels of caffeine and sugar in combination with other
ingredients, such as guarana, taurine, vitamins, minerals or herbal substances.
A 500ml can of energy drink for example, can contain 20 teaspoons
of sugar
and the same amount of caffeine as two cups of coffee.
Caffeine stimulates
the central and peripheral nervous system
. Consumed in larger doses,
it can cause anxiety,
agitation, sleeplessness, gastrointestinal problems and heart arrhythmias.
In the
UK, there are no clear recommendations for caffeine intake for adults or
children, although both the Food Standards Agency and the British Soft
Drinks Association recommend
that children should only consume
caffeine in “moderation” and that caffeine content over [150mg/l] should be declared on the packaging.
The current scientific consensus is that [less than 2.5 mg a day] in children
and adolescents is not
associated with adverse effects
Should we
be worried?
evidence indicates that these drinks do not give you wings – or any other
positive benefits. In fact their intake in young people, is associated with
adverse health outcomes. There is growing evidence of the harmful effects of
these drinks
. Teachers are concerned about the detrimental impact
these drinks have on pupils in
their classrooms
. There is also a known association between soft
drink intake, dental erosion and obesity.
known are the effects of the cocktail of stimulant ingredients – such as
guarana and taurine – contained within these drinks.
drink sales in the UK are now worth more than £2 billion a year. Shutterstock

Our recent review of the scientific
set out to look for any evidence of associations between
children and young people’s consumption of energy drinks and their health and
well-being – as well as their social, behavioural or educational outcomes.
We found
that for young people, drinking energy drinks is associated with a range of
adverse outcomes and risky behaviours. They are strongly and positively
associated with higher rates of smoking, alcohol and other substance use – and
linked to physical health symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches,
hyperactivity and insomnia.
Why do
young people buy them?
We also spoke with
young people
about their intake of these drinks. Discussions with
our participants aged between ten and 14 indicated just how accessible and
available these drinks are. They are also cheap – in some cases significantly
cheaper than other soft drinks, as one of the girls we spoke to explained:
I think
it’s because like a normal can of Coke is like 70p, and [own brand energy
drinks] are like 35p.
research found that energy drinks are often marketed on gaming sites and linked
to sports and an athletic lifestyle – and are particularly aimed at boys.
Taste, price, promotion, ease of access and peer influences were all identified
as key factors in young people’s consumption choices.
with parents and teachers about these drinks there was confusion. Parents
themselves identified the need for more information about energy drinks – and
many admitted to not being fully aware of the contents and potential
harmful effects on children
they be banned?
there has been a move to restrict the sales of these drinks to under 16’s – an
approach which has also been taken by
other countries
. This saw the self-imposed sales restriction by many
larger retailers – including most supermarkets – to not sell to children under
16. But many places still continue to sell to young people – including convenience
, which offer a wide range of brands, flavours and package
Commons Science and Technology Committee’s enquiry into energy drinks called for
submissions in April 2018
and will be reviewing in June 2018 – when
we will also give oral evidence.
course, legislation to prevent the sales of energy drinks to under 16’s would
be helpful. But the marketing of these drinks to young people through computer
games and their association with sports is also a much wider issue. Far
reaching discussions are needed about the direct and indirect marketing of
these drinks (and other food and drinks) through multiple platforms other than
TV – particularly through computer games.