Ending the sale of energy drinks to children - consultation response

In 2018 we responded to the Department of Health and Social Care consultation on ending the sale of energy drinks to children as part of the ‘Childhood obesity: a plan for action’. We support a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children and young people.

Children get the energy they need from a healthy and varied diet, sleep, exercise and positive interactions with others. Energy drinks have no clear benefits in terms of providing energy, and there is a small but growing body of evidence to suggest that they can have a detrimental effect on children’s wellbeing. We firmly believe that we must adopt the precautionary principle in order to prevent harm, and that the sale of energy drinks to children should therefore be prohibited.

See consultation

Our response

  • Energy drink consumption by young people has repeatedly found to be associated with various high risk-taking behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and other substance use. Similarly, they have been associated with poor mental health and a range of physical symptoms, including cardiovascular affects and headaches and insomnia.
  • In a small scale study, 90% of teachers reported hyperactivity and other difficult behaviours following consumption of energy drinks by children. There is a growing evidence base suggesting energy drink consumption is associated with anxiety, depression, risky behaviours and poor academic attainment. Perhaps most concerning is the effects on sleep; a clear inverse association has been established between consumption of caffeinated energy drinks and sleep duration.
  • While there is a lack of evidence for the effects of caffeine and amino acids on children, there is a plethora of evidence with regards to the effect of sugar.
  • Energy drink consumption has major implications for oral health, like any high sugar food. Oral health remains a major issue for children in the UK. 
  • Recent qualitative research looking specifically at children’s perception of energy drinks in the UK found that purchasing decisions were influenced by the relatively low price of many energy drinks and their widespread availability, with gendered branding also having an important role. 

Our recommendations

  • We support a compete ban on the sale of energy drinks to people aged under 16. 
  • We are continuing to call for a 9pm watershed on all adverts for food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt as the most effective way to reduce children’s exposure to food and drink marketing.  We would also recommend that this is extended to limits on sponsorship opportunities for energy drinks companies for activities that have a high profile among children, including sports.
  • We recommend an all-age campaign to raise awareness of the amounts of caffeine present across different caffeinated beverages.
  • We believe it is important for the Government to adopt a clear definition of an energy drink.

We respond to a wide range of consultations to ensure that the College’s position, and ultimately children’s health, is represented. Members can get involved in current consultations by contacting the Health Policy team: health.policy@rcpch.ac.uk.