A new review of evidence on the health effects of energy drinks has sparked calls for a ban on their sale to young people and children in the UK. The review, which examined 57 recent studies involving over one million children from 21 countries, found that these drinks are associated with a range of risks, including anxiety, stress, and suicidal thoughts. Energy drinks often contain high levels of caffeine and sugar and are marketed as providing an energy boost. While most UK supermarkets have voluntarily banned their sale to under-16s, there are calls for a complete ban that covers all retailers and vending machines.
In response to the review, 40 health-related organizations have written a letter to the Health Secretary urging further restrictions on the sale of energy drinks. The researchers found that regular consumption of these drinks is harmful to the mental and physical health of children and young people, and also impacts their behavior and education. The review found associations between energy drink consumption and drug use, violence, unsafe sex, sleep problems, poor school performance, and an unhealthy diet. Given these risks, the review concluded that action must be taken to protect young people.
It is important to note that the research cannot establish a direct causal relationship between energy drinks and the observed health harms, as dietary studies are always observational in nature. However, the findings are considered significant and represent the best available evidence. It is possible that the consumption of energy drinks is associated with health risks because those who consume them frequently are more likely to engage in other unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or drinking alcohol. Energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine, with some cans containing as much caffeine as two espressos, which means that young people can easily exceed the recommended caffeine intake. These drinks also have a high sugar content, which can contribute to tooth decay and obesity, particularly if young people already have an unhealthy diet.
While some countries, including Latvia and Lithuania, have already banned the sale of energy drinks to children, the impact of these bans is still being assessed. Other countries, such as Finland and Poland, are also considering similar measures. In the UK, England and Scotland conducted consultations on banning the sale of energy drinks to children in the past, and Wales held a similar consultation in 2022. Currently, drinks with a caffeine content exceeding 150mg per liter must carry a label stating that they are not recommended for children, pregnant women, or breastfeeding women. However, the Royal Society for Public Health and other organizations are calling on the UK government to fulfill its commitment to banning the sale of energy drinks to under-16s, citing the growing evidence of the harm these drinks can cause to the physical and mental health of young people.