Earlier this year, North East experts gave evidence in Westminster before the Science and Technology Select Committee about the impact and availability of energy drinks.
The Committee yesterday published its ‘Energy Drinks and Children Report’, which concluded that societal concerns could justify a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children. However, the Committee found that the current quantitative evidence alone is not sufficient to warrant a statutory ban.
Dangers of energy drinks
Researchers from Fuse, which includes experts from Newcastle, Teesside and Northumbria Universities, previously published a study which found that energy drinks were being sold to young people cheaper than water and pop.
The study highlighted the dangers of energy drinks and the fact that young people in the UK are the biggest consumers of energy drinks in Europe for their age group.
Dr Shelina Visram, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Newcastle University, led the Fuse study - which is the first to explore in-depth the views of energy drinks of children as young as 10-years-old.
She said: “Energy drinks are widely acknowledged as being unsuitable and potentially unsafe for children, which is why limited research has been undertaken with younger age groups.
“While it is good to see MPs calling for further research, this should not delay action to reduce consumption, particularly given that there is an established evidence base relating to the two main ingredients, and their harmful effects - caffeine and sugar.
“Furthermore, existing evidence clearly indicates that energy drink consumption is associated with a range of health complaints and risk behaviours in school-age children.
“The Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry examined the effects of energy drinks, especially the caffeine contained in them. It concluded that the existing quantitative evidence alone is not sufficient to justify a statutory ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.”
Dr Amelia Lake, a Reader in Public Health Nutrition in Teesside University’s School of Science, Engineering & Design, and is also Associate Director for Fuse, The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, has long-campaigned for a ban on the sale of energy drinks to people aged under 18.
Dr Lake, who was involved in a national campaign, fronted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, calling on action to be taken on the sale of energy drinks to teenagers, gave evidence to the Science and Technology Committee on the effects of energy drinks on young people’s mental and physical health.
Commenting on the findings of the inquiry, she said: “Our review of the evidence demonstrates that the use of energy drinks by children and young people is associated with a number of adverse outcomes and health-damaging behaviours.
“Energy drink consumption can contribute to weight gain and dental corrosion. They are associated with headaches, stomach aches, hyperactivity and insomnia. Drinking energy drinks is associated with higher rates of alcohol, smoking and drug use.
“There is little evidence of their positive effects on children and young people. These drinks are the fastest growing sector of the soft drinks industry. They are low cost and they are widely available. The manufacturer’s labels on these drinks say that they are not suitable for children.
“As a researcher I would welcome further opportunity for more research, however, we know that high quantities of these drinks are consumed by our children and young people.
“The associations are clear and the industry labelling is clear, these drinks are not suitable for children and have no role in a healthy, balanced diet.”
After reviewing a range of qualitative evidence, such as the experiences of teachers, the Committee stated it would:
• welcome any voluntary action taken by schools, retailers and local communities that could reduce energy drink consumption among children, including exclusion zones
• acknowledged that the current voluntary ban implemented by a number of retailers amplifies the message that energy drinks are associated with negative health, behavioural and dietary effects
• recognised that it might be legitimate for the Government to implement a statutory ban based on societal concerns and qualitative evidence, such as the experience of school teachers.
The Committee also recognised that energy drink marketing campaigns continue to be specifically appealing to children, despite claims to the contrary by industry. Examples include sponsorship of a talent programme for extreme sports stars aged 13-21, and collaborations with computer game titles popular with children and adolescents.
The British Dietetic Association (BDA) urged the UK government to push on with its proposals to ban energy drink sales to children.
Andy Burman, BDA Chief Executive, said: “We believe the evidence shows that energy drinks, because of both their high per-unit caffeine content, appealing flavours and child-friendly marketing, are a particular area of concern.
“We strongly urge the government to stay the course with its proposals to introduce a ban on energy drink sales to under-18s.”
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