A number of north-east experts have urged the government to implement a ban on the sale of energy drinks to anybody under 18.

A study carried out by academics from Newcastle University, Northumbria University and Teesside University has highlighted the shocking effects that such drinks can have on youngsters.

Their research showed that energy drink consumption could be linked to obesity, tooth decay, headaches, stomach aches and insomnia. The drinks can also contribute to conditions like hyperactivity, mental health problems and poor behaviour in school.

Those who consume a lot of energy drinks also seem more likely to start smoking, taking drugs and drinking to excess.

Despite all this, the researchers found that youngsters could sometimes purchase energy drinks more cheaply than water or pop. Young people in the UK consume more energy drinks on average than youngsters in any other European country.

Earlier in 2018, the team of north-east experts gave evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee in Westminster on the effects and availability of energy drinks. On December 4th, the committee published its report on these issues.

The report states that – while sufficient evidence may come to light in the future to justify a ban – the evidence at present isn’t strong enough to outlaw the sale of energy drinks to children. 

Dr Shelina Visram, a senior lecturer in public health at Newcastle University and the leader of the study, 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.”

Dr Amelia Lake, a reader in public health nutrition at Teesside University, has campaigned for some time for a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children. Dr Lake took part in a national campaign, featuring celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, which demanded action on the sale of energy drinks to teenagers.

Dr Lake said, “Energy drink consumption can contribute to weight gain and dental corrosion. They are associated with headaches, stomach aches, hyperactivity and insomnia.”

“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 widely available. The manufacturers’ labels on these drinks say they are not suitable for children.”

“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 have no role in a healthy balanced diet.”

The select committee, while not calling for a ban, did recognise that the marketing campaigns of the energy drinks industry might be attractive to young people. Such campaigns have included extreme sports stars and involved collaborations with computer game titles popular with youngsters.

The committee, for now, welcomed voluntary action from schools, communities and retailers to reduce energy drink consumption and called for more research.

Andy Burman, the chief executive of the British Dietetic Association, said, “We believe the evidence shows that energy drinks – because of 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.”

(Featured image courtesy of Theo Crazzolara, from Flickr Creative Commons.)

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