27 Jul 2020

Following the launch of the Government’s strategy for obesity today, the BDA and Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, have expressed frustration at the lack of action on energy drink sales to children. This is despite the government first consulting on this matter over 18 months ago. The organisations have real concerns that this important step will be lost in what the government is calling a “reset” around obesity.

Energy drinks are already labelled as unsuitable for children and the evidence of their harm to children is clear. The government needs to urgently act on the findings of its consultation and make sure children cannot buy these products, or be bombarded with advertising or promotions for them either.

Professor Amelia Lake RD, Professor of Public Health Nutrition and Associate Director for Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health said; “The government’s failure to act on this issue is enormously frustrating. Our research has clearly shown that children are buying these often very cheap drinks in large quantities despite the health warnings, and we know it impacts on school work and mental health. Intake of these drinks impacts on sleep and concentration, and has been linked to headaches and other physical health impacts.”

Annabel van Griethuysen RD, an Advanced Dietetic Clinical Specialist in mental health and BDA spokesperson said; “In my role as a dietitian, I see the damaging impact of energy drinks on children and young people, in particular on their mental health. The government consulted widely on a ban and the evidence was clear – children should not be drinking energy drinks. This is a huge missed opportunity to improve children’s health.”

Energy drinks sold cheaper that water or pop

Researchers from Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, were the first to publish research exploring in-depth the views of children, as young as 10-years-old, on energy drinks.  They called on the 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 water and pop’. The study highlighted the dangers of energy drinks, which typically contain high levels of caffeine and sugar.

The research also showed that around one in three young people say that they regularly consume energy drinks, and young people in the UK were the biggest consumers of energy drinks in Europe for their age group.

Professor Lake, who works at Teesside University, 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 also agreed to ban the sale of energy drinks to children.    

The announcement comes after a public consultation undertaken in 2018. The consultation showed overwhelming public support, with 93% of consultation respondents agreeing that businesses should be prohibited from selling the drinks to children. Teachers and health professionals, in particular, were strong in their support for the government to take action.

The work was supported by The Children's Foundation Child Health Research Programme (registered charity no. 1000013) and led by Dr Shelina Visram from Newcastle University, with academics from Durham, Northumbria, and Teesside Universities collaborating through Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health.