UK government told to restrict sales of energy drinks to children

World Cancer Research Fund has co-signed letters to the UK government health and shadow health secretaries, as new study reveals energy drinks harm children and young people.

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, our Director of Research, Innovation and Policy, is one of more than 40 signatories of letters to key politicians warning of the dangers of energy drinks. The letters were sent to UK government Health Secretary Victoria Atkins MP and Labour Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting MP.

UK government ministers have previously promised to tackle the sale of energy drinks to children, but there has been little progress.

And a new study by researchers from Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, at Teesside University and Newcastle University, has associated energy drinks with many health problems in children and young people.

Researchers reviewed data from 57 studies of more than 1.2 million children and young people from more than 21 countries. Consumption of energy drinks was associated in the research review with:

  • increased risk of suicidal thoughts
  • psychological distress
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms
  • depressive and panic behaviours
  • allergic diseases
  • insulin resistance
  • tooth decay
  • increased risk of poor academic performance
  • sleep problems
  • unhealthy dietary habits

The UK government has previously proposed restricting sales of high-caffeine energy drinks to under-16s. According to Food Active – one of the signatories of the letter – the government’s 2019 green paper, “Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s“, consulted on proposals to legislate against the sale of energy drinks to children. Food Active notes that even though 93% of respondents to the consultation supported restricting sales to under-16s, there has been no further action.

Our co-signed letters point out that, since then, sales of energy drinks have continued to boom.

The letter to Ms Atkins says:

Deprivation and socio-economic disparity are key indicators for energy drinks consumption and other unhealthy eating behaviours by children and young people, and this is likely to be widening the stark inequalities in health our most vulnerable communities are experiencing …

We are calling on the government to uphold its promise and finally implement the national sales restriction on these harmful drinks to under 16s. Four years of inaction on this issue is simply too long.

World Cancer Research Fund’s evidence shows that sugary drinks – which includes many energy drinks – lead to weight gain, which can increase our risk of at least 13 different types of cancer. Our Cancer Prevention Recommendation is to limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

> Read the letters on the Food Active website